Fire fighters have been working around the clock this week as illegal gorse fires across the country continued to spread out of control. An Orange fire warning has been issued until Thursday 20 and will remain in place, unless a period of persistent rain comes in.
Farmers and rural dwellers have been asked to be vigilant and not to set fires as, according to Met Éireann, “a current high pressure system centred over Ireland is expected to induce High Fine Fuel Moisture Code and Initial Spread index values associated with rapid fire spread in typical upland vegetation types.”
Nobody has ever been prosecuted for setting illegal fires but Gardai are being urged to intervene and set an example. Irish Wildlife Trust released a statement in which they said: “Every year we see the same wildfire wipe-out as hillsides and bogs get torched…. We need to see greater coordination between the Gardaí, the NPWS and Department of Agriculture to clamp down on this illegal activity.”
It is illegal to burn scrub from March 1 to August 31 but fires have been deliberately set all over the country. This is placing enormous pressure on fire fighting services. A large gorse fire on Tuesday night broke out near Johnstown in west Cork (pictured). Fire fighters said they had already been up all night Monday fighting another fire near Macroom. Local landowners spent the evening assisting them and together they managed to prevent it spreading into a neighbouring Coillte forestry plantation.
If these fires enter forestry they become huge conflagrations which threaten people and property. A similar spate of burning in March 2016 led the Department of Agriculture to warn that farmers who set illegal fires risk losing their “Basic Payment Scheme, GLAS and other area based schemes”.
As March was once the traditional month for setting fires to burn off gorse and scrub, farmers feel entitled to set fires, but this attitude needs to be adjusted. Fires at this time of year are devastating for wildlife as they destroy large areas after animals and birds have already begun their breeding cycles. In addition, they put the lives of firefighters and neighbouring properties at risk.
Last week the IFA released a statement through Pat Collins, their farm forestry chairman. Collins outlined the risk factor for farmers with forestry. He said: “Most fires spread from adjoining land into the forest. It is important that farmers assess the risk to their forest and make sure that the fire-breaks are maintained. A fire-break should consist of a 6m-wide fuel-free zone, typically around the boundary of the forest.”
Many farmers have something to lose when fires break out so it is important that attitudes to illegal fires change. It should no longer be acceptable to set them. With higher average temperatures and earlier springs being attributed to global warming, there is less moisture than there might have been in times past. In addition, there are fewer people active in the countryside to control the fire once it is set, meaning it can easily go out of control. A dry spell in winter is the best time for burning, as fires can then be controlled more easily and no wildlife is then breeding.
Main Photograph by Elizabeth Fleming - A fireman fights a blaze near Johnstown on Tuesday