Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Authorities use satellite data to detect illegal fires in 17 counties

Blaze alert: A fire rages out of control near the iconic Gougane Barra church in Co Cork Photo: John Delea
Blaze alert: A fire rages out of control near the iconic Gougane Barra church in Co Cork Photo: John Delea
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Gorse fires that wreaked havoc in the west of Ireland last week were so vast they could be seen from space.

Nasa satellites captured pictures of the west coast while the fires raged.

They show plumes of smoke billowing from the Cloosh Valley in Connemara where millions of euro worth of damage was caused to forests and bogs.

The fires raged for five days and covered an area five times the size of Dublin's Phoenix Park, before they were brought under control by fire crews aided by improving weather conditions and Air Corps helicopters dumping thousands of litres of water.

Nasa satellite picture shows smoke from a huge gorse fire in Co Galway last week
Nasa satellite picture shows smoke from a huge gorse fire in Co Galway last week

Department of Agriculture officials used the Nasa satellite images to monitor the fires and detect locations under threat.

EU Copernicus satellite data was also used to detect illegal fires in 17 counties in the past seven days.

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said satellites had detected more than 50 illegal fire sites before April 21.

However, the number of fires has escalated since then as farmers look to burn off gorse and waste while the ground continues to dry out.


"An indication of the scale of the problem is that this number represents just under half of the total known fire locations to that date," said Mr Creed.

This growing number of fires in the past three weeks has seen rural homes and farms threatened by growing blazes, notably in Cork where a picturesque site near the iconic Gougane Barra church was engulfed with flames as worried locals looked on.

This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on May 08, 2017
This natural-color satellite image was collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Terra satellite on May 08, 2017

More than 1,500 hectares of forest and another 2,000 hectares of bogland were destroyed by the fires in Galway last week.

Recent rainfall has helped quash the threat of more fires but the minister said his department will withdraw payments to farmers caught setting illegal fires.

So far, no farmers have been prosecuted or faced sanction for setting fires.

"My department operates a basic payment scheme and other area-based schemes wherein applicants are obliged to comply with cross compliance, including requirements in relation to the burning of vegetation," said Mr Creed.

"I would like to remind farmers that where land has been burned, it is not generally eligible for basic payment."

Sunday Independent