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Public urged to act responsibly and remain vigilant to wildfires

Firefighters tackling the wildfire on Donard Mountain between Fri 23rd April and Sun 25th April. Photo PressEye

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) are asking farmers, land managers and the public for their help during the current dry weather spell.

As the dry weather continues, DAERA, NIFRS, PSNI and UFU are once again advising visitors to rural areas, as well as residents, to act responsibly and be vigilant for wildfires especially over this bank holiday weekend.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots MLA said:

“The recent wildfire in the Mournes on Donard Mountain has shown how quickly a wildfire can spread creating significant risk to life and property while causing extensive environmental damage and diverting the emergency services resources away from where they are most needed, protecting and serving the community.

“With the COVID-19 restrictions starting to relax and people travelling to see friends, family and enjoy the countryside, the need for responsible behaviour and increased vigilance at this time cannot be overstated. The wildfire risk increases with members of the public taking advantage to get back into the countryside. The use of barbeques, camp fires and other open ignition sources should be avoided in or near areas where there is a risk of a vegetation fire starting (areas with gorse, forestry, heather or dry grasses).

“On behalf of all partner organisations I am asking the public, farmers, rural dwellers and other countryside users to be extremely vigilant regarding the use of fire. Please report any suspicious or illegal activity to the PSNI via 999 and report all fires immediately to the NIFRS via 999.”

There remains a risk of wildfire across Northern Ireland. Fires can take hold and spread quickly on dry ground, with potentially devastating consequences.

Extra caution is also advised with respect to use of machinery and other agricultural activity that may also present a risk of fire in dry vegetation on cultivated land in the current conditions. Operators of such equipment should ensure that the machinery is well maintained and that any heat insulation is in place, is intact and maintained to help reduce the risk of fire from exhausts or other exposed hot engine parts which may lead to ignition of the surrounding vegetation in these very dry conditions.

Firefighters tackling the wildfire on Donard Mountain between Fri 23rd April and Sun 25th April. Photo PressEye

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.

Please heed the following advice if you are in the countryside:

  • Avoid using open fires in the countryside;

  • Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials properly

  • Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows

  • Be considerate in parking vehicles so as not to impede access by emergency vehicles.

  • Only use barbecues in designated and safe areas and never leave them unattended. Keep children and ball games away from barbecues.

  • Ensure that barbecues are fully extinguished and cold before disposing of their contents. Better still take your used BBQ home for safe disposal

  • Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through glass can start a fire. Take them home or put them in a waste or recycling bin.

  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service. Don’t attempt to tackle fires that will take more than a bucket of water to put out. Leave the area as soon as possible.

  • Report any suspicious behaviour to the Police.

If you see a fire:

  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service;

  • Do not attempt to tackle fires that cannot be put out with a bucket of water;

  • Leave the area as soon as possible;

  • If you see someone setting fires, report it to the PSNI.

The Donard Mountain wildfire

  • Significant NIFRS resources were deployed to tackle the wildfire on Donard Mountain between Fri 23rd April and Sun 25th April.

  • NIFRS operations were supported by PSNI Search and Rescue team, UK and Irish Coast Guard, NIEA, Forest Service and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and other partners. This was an excellent multi-agency response and support to a major wildfire incident.

  • Over 3km² of heathland and associated habitats, and their associated wildlife have been impacted by the fire.

Advice about wildfires

The messages about the impacts of wildfires and how to avoid them are clear and simple. We are now inside the closed season for prescribed burning which is 15th April to 31st August. Any one burning heather, gorse whin etc. at this time of the year is committing an offence under “The Game Preservation Act (Northern Ireland) 1928”.

  • Removal of gorse or other vegetation by hand or by using fire as part of any kind of farm or land management activity is a breach of Cross Compliance and will incur penalties

  • Burning and wildfires at this time of the year risk destroying birds nests which is an offence under “The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985”

  • Wildfires are not natural - they are almost always started by human activity either deliberately or by being careless

  • Wildfires put lives at risk - they could result in tragedy for people caught in the line of fire. Dealing with these types of incidents puts not only Firefighters’ lives at risk but the lives of everyone in the local community. Firefighters are diverted from other emergencies and contingency plans have to be put in place to ensure continued emergency cover for towns and villages across Northern Ireland – this may result in a slight delay when responding.

  • Wildfires cost everyone – the whole community, as well as businesses that provide much needed employment. Wildfires destroy our surroundings – how they look and the wildlife in them

  • Wildfires are illegal – deliberate setting of wildfires is a criminal offence


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