Video: Irish Air Corps swoops in to help battle gorse fire on Co Armagh mountain
Helicopters from the Irish Air Corps crossed the border yesterday to help put out gorse fires in Northern Ireland for the first time.
More than 90,000 litres of water had been dropped by 8pm last night on Slieve Gullion as a deep-seated blaze had raged on the south Armagh mountain from Friday.
It has since extended to around 100 acres and is encroaching upon an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
The NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) had requested assistance from the Irish Air Corps and the Irish Defence Forces to help prevent the flames from spreading further.
An AgustaWestland and Eurocopter provided both firefighting observation services. One of the helicopters is capable of dumping 1,200 litres of water onto flames from its bucket.
With the recent spell of dry, sunny weather, there has been a massive upsurge in gorse fires.
The NIFRS reported that between June 26 and July 9, it attended 2,375 incidents, 1,079 of which were gorse fires.
NIFRS Group Commander Mark Smyth said: "A seemingly innocent mistake could well cause a severe gorse fire that destroys acres of countryside and ties up firefighting resources for prolonged periods."
While many of the blazes have been started deliberately, gorse fires can also be caused accidentally by cigarettes carelessly thrown from car windows, a glass bottle left on the ground, or a smouldering barbecue.
The Fire Service has urged people to heed fire safety advice to protect themselves and the countryside. "Tackling gorse and wildland fires is extremely challenging for us. It means deploying firefighters and equipment to remote locations," Mr Smyth added.
"This can be for a prolonged period of time with our crews working in hazardous and intense heat to bring the fires under control. These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.
"It's not just the larger fires on hillsides and mountains that impact upon resources; the smaller fires involving grass and bushes also need to be dealt with quickly as they have the potential to spread and develop into bigger fires. Attending such incidents puts additional pressure on our people and resources."
Last year firefighters here attended 2,072 gorse fires, representing a 27% increase from the previous year.