Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Resources stretched as Fire Service battles gorse fires

The NI Fire Service experienced its busiest period of the current spell of hot and dry weather when its resources were stretched to full capacity dealing with numerous gorse fires across the area over the weekend.  Such was the demand on resources that firefighters from Belfast were called in to assist local crews who were working around the clock to deal with the wildfires.

On Friday afternoon six fire appliances and specialist Wildfire Resources were tasked to deal with a large gorse fire at Ballintemple Road on Slieve Gullion mountain where approximately three acres of gorse was ablaze.  A spokesperson for NIFRS said it was working alongside the Forest Service, which has responsibility for the mountainous area, to deal with the blaze.  The wildfire was located close to Ballintemple Viewpoint, a popular scenic picnic area.  People were advised to avoid the area as firefighters fought to keep the flames under control.

At the same time, a number of other wildfires were also visible in the Ring of Gullion – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

On Saturday, fire crews tackled a number of fires on Sugarloaf Mountain in Lislea.  Large plumes of smoke could be seen from miles away as firefighters battled to contain large areas of the mountain which were ablaze.

In the week from 27th June to 5th July, the Fire Service attended 665 callouts to gorse fires across the north.  In light of this, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) advised visitors to rural areas as well as residents to be “vigilant”.  They asked people to check on elderly and vulnerable neighbours and follow the advice and instructions of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS).  People should avoid creating open fires, such as barbecues, and ensure other potential sources of fire are carefully minded.

“Under the current conditions, any ignition source in hazardous fuels may give rise to wildfire development,” the department said.  “Such a fire can spread very quickly, especially in areas with dead grasses, gorse, forestry and heather. Large areas can become engulfed in a very short period of time and may be hazardous to human life, property and wildlife.

“Wildfires are not natural – they are almost always started by humans either deliberately or through carelessness.  They put lives at risk, destroy our surroundings and the wildlife in them, and are a real cost to society.”

NIFRS Assistant Chief Fire and Rescue Officer Alan Walmsley also warned of the dangers of wildfires: “Under the current hot weather conditions gorse fires can rapidly spread and can be difficult to extinguish due to their remote location.  Gorse fires can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment, as well as placing extra strain on fire service resources,” he said.

Asking the public to be vigilant and not discard cigarettes or litter in the countryside, he added: “Our number one priority is to keep the public and firefighters safe whilst we deal with these challenging conditions.”

Meanwhile, the prolonged dry spell has continued to put pressure on water supplies with the hosepipe ban – which was introduced ten days ago – still in force.  Some areas have been hit with interruptions in supplies, with others experiencing a drop in water pressure.

NI Water thanked the public for supporting the hosepipe ban and appealed for people not to use water for washing cars, filling paddling pools or sprinkling gardens.  It has also asked the public to take shorter showers and turn the tap off when brushing teeth in a bid to further conserve supplies.

With the dry weather expected to continue and temperatures forecast to rise again this week, the restriction on domestic water usage is likely to continue for a number of weeks yet.