With the arrival of the drier weather, the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (has issued a timely warning of the extreme dangers and serious consequences of deliberate fire setting in the countryside.
Last year fire crews attended 1,439 gorse fires across Northern Ireland, and although there has been a 31 per cent reduction in these types of incidents over the last three years, the Fire Service is keen to see this reduce even further.
To reinforce this aim, the Fire Service has issued an eight-point plan to help reduce the statistics even further: Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials properly; Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows; 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; Avoid using open fires in the countryside; Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through glass can start a fire. Take them home or put them in a 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 and, lastly, report any suspicious behaviour to the Police.
Appealing for public support, Group Commander Mark Smyth said deliberate fire setting in the countryside is still very much a significant community problem for Northern Ireland: “The current spell of dry, sunny weather combined with a long and fairly mild winter has provided a tinderbox landscape. Tackling gorse and wildland fires is extremely challenging for us. It means deploying firefighters and equipment to remote locations. This can be for prolonged period of times with our crews working under hazardous and intense heat to bring the fires under control. These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.”
Gorse fires in the Western Area accounted for 27 percent of the overall call-outs to this type of fire in Northern Ireland and the number of gorse fire has decreased from 612 in 2013/14 to 395 last year.
However, Group Commander Smyth stressed that it is not just the larger fires on hillsides and mountains that impact upon resources.
“The smaller fires involving grass and bushes also need to be dealt with quickly as they have the potential to spread and develop into bigger fires,” he said.
“Attending such incidents puts additional pressure on our people and our resources. We have been working hard to address the problem of gorse fires and educate people about the dangers and consequences of deliberate fire setting.”