It’s only a matter of time until a life is lost — unless the spate of malicious fires spreading over the Belfast hills is halted.
That’s the stark warning from the National Trust after 17 fires were lit across the hills on Sunday and Monday, cutting a devastating swathe of destruction through a vast area of upland heath.
Widespread damage was caused to an area from land over the Whiterock Road to Windy Gap, says the National Trust and Belfast Hills Partnership, which examined the damage yesterday.
Seven fires were lit on Sunday, with another 10 set alight simultaneously on Monday afternoon on Black Mountain. There were reports of further fires yesterday.
Dermot McCann, National Trust warden for Divis and Black Mountain, said: “There is going to be loss of life if this goes on. It only takes the wind to change and the people starting these fires or an innocent walker will be caught.”
Soil erosion caused in the long-term could flood communities below Black Mountain, according to Dr Jim Bradley of the Belfast Hills Partnership.
The group has been studying the long-term effects of the malicious fires with Queen’s University’s Quercus group. Dr Bradley said: “Early spring fires like these are causing major damage and loss of wildlife and landscape.
“We have been working closely with the Fire and Rescue Service and it is important that people call the fire brigade when they see these fires. Don’t assume someone else will.”