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Mourne Mountains: Swann praises fire service 'heroes' as blaze 'no longer a major incident'

The operation was scaled back on Sunday afternoon

Health Minister Robin Swann has praised the "heroes" of the fire service, as the blaze in the Mourne Mountains is no longer being treated as a major incident.

The fire service is in its third day tackling the fire in the Mourne Mountains.

Thirty firefighters and four appliances have been at the Co Down peaks since first light on Sunday, however the operation was scaled back in the afternoon.

Mr Swann visited the command centre in Newcastle to witness first-hand the work tackling the blaze.

"I have been watching this major incident unfold over the last few days. While the situation is improving, the blaze is continuing to cause significant damage to the Mourne Mountain area," he said.

"The bravery, commitment and determination of these firefighters have very much shone through as they worked tirelessly in extreme circumstances to bring this fire under control. I pay tribute to each and every one of them.

"These men and women are very much the heroes and protectors of our environment. But there is an onus on us all to take better care of our natural heritage and protect all the species that live there. Everyone has a role to play in protecting our landscape so future generations can enjoy and benefit from it."

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Aidan Jennings, assistant chief fire and rescue officer, said the operation will continue across the day.

Firefighters efforts have been supported by police, Coastguard, Mourne Rescue Team, Forestry Service, National Trust, NIEA and Sky Watch Patrol.

Coastguard helicopters from the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain allowed fire chiefs an aerial view of the blaze to help inform tactics, transport personnel to remote locations and plan resources.

Local people and businesses have been providing food and support.

Mr Jennings thanked all for their support and firefighters for their hard work and resilience in “extremely difficult conditions”.

“Your dedication and commitment in working tirelessly to resolve this incident and maintain our response across Northern Ireland during this period is at the very heart of what it means to be a firefighter,” he said.

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Aidan Jennings asked people to be extra fire aware (Rebecca Black/PA)

Aidan Jennings asked people to be extra fire aware (Rebecca Black/PA)

PA

Aidan Jennings asked people to be extra fire aware (Rebecca Black/PA)

The fire service on Sunday afternoon thanked all the those providing refreshments, adding: "The incident has been scaled down, and is no longer a major incident, and so please don't worry about bringing any more refreshments to the scene.

On Saturday Mr Jennings said it is “undoubtedly one of the most challenging gorse fires firefighters have ever had to deal with”.

He said fire crews will be available to those who need them despite the operation in the Mournes, but asked the public to be extra fire aware.

“I want to reassure everyone that we have put contingency measures in place and if you need us in an emergency we will respond,” he said.

“However, I am asking everyone to be extra fire aware at this time both in your home and in particular in the countryside.”

The blaze in the Slieve Donard area started in the early hours of Friday.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service declared a major incident on Saturday.

There is no indication yet of how it started.

Dramatic images of the mountains ablaze sparked concern, with First Minister Arlene Foster tweeting: “This is devastating and tragic. The impact on wildlife and flora is unimaginable. Full support to those battling the flames.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill voiced “huge admiration” for the firefighters and all responders.

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Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @DeeJayDready showing a huge gorse fire spreading across the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, as seen from Newcastle, Co Down

Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @DeeJayDready showing a huge gorse fire spreading across the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, as seen from Newcastle, Co Down

PA

Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @DeeJayDready showing a huge gorse fire spreading across the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, as seen from Newcastle, Co Down

Environment Minister Edwin Poots visited the scene on Saturday.

He described horrifying damage is being done over a widespread area, particularly to wildlife and biodiversity.

On Saturday the flames spread from Bloody Bridge, across Thomas Mountain and the base of Slieve Donard, as well up Northern Ireland’s highest peak to less accessible ground.

On Sunday the focus of firefighting efforts were in the Bloody Bridge area following overnight winds.


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