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Over 200 gorse fires tackled in five days

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A firefighter battles a major gorse fire at Torr Road, Ballycastle

A firefighter battles a major gorse fire at Torr Road, Ballycastle

A firefighter battles a major gorse fire at Torr Road, Ballycastle

Firefighters have been rushed off their feet tackling more than 200 gorse and bush fires in the five recent days of good weather.

Crews dealt with 228 such incidents between Wednesday and Sunday.

According to the fire service many of the blazes were started deliberately.

Last month a huge gorse fire, started on purpose, led to nine homes being evacuated in Whiteabbey, Co Antrim.

And last week it emerged that around £35m had been spent tackling gorse fires in Northern Ireland in the past five years.

As well as putting peoples’ lives at risk, the blazes have also had a devastating effect on wildlife and the environment.

Dr Jim Bradley from the Belfast Hills Partnership, which has been studying the long term effects of malicious fires, said gorse blazes have a devastating impact.

He said: “At this time of year you get a lot of nesting birds, new plants and insects, and this can really knock back a whole mountainside.

“There is also a risk to human life. People don’t realise how quickly these fires can travel — they can move quicker than walking pace.

“They also produce a lot of smoke and people — particularly new visitors to sites — can easily become disorientated.”

Peter Craig, assistant chief fire officer with the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service, said communities may be left exposed while crews are out tackling gorse fires.

He said: “When fire crews respond to these types of fires it can be for prolonged periods of time, depending on the nature of the fire, and the fire service has to ensure continued emergency cover across Northern Ireland by moving resources around.

“That may mean that in a real emergency, resources from further afield may have to respond as we cannot be in two places at once.

“Tackling the larger gorse fires can be extremely difficult as they are often in remote hillside and mountain locations which can be difficult for firefighters to access.”

Mr Craig said blazes waste vital time and resources.

“Putting out these gorse fires, regardless of their size and location, requires both firefighters and equipment at the scene to deal with the fire, and this can put extra pressure on resources, particularly when there are multiple gorse fires happening,” he added.

“While the majority of gorse fires we have attended in recent years have been started deliberately, they can also start accidentally through carelessness.

“We would appeal to the public to take extra care when out and about in the countryside and follow our fire safety advice so that everyone can enjoy it.”

Belfast Telegraph