'Take action': Forest Service issue highest fire warning due to dry weather

Farmers should not attempt controlled burning - Department

Blaze alert: A fire rages out of control near the iconic Gougane Barra church in Co Cork last year Photo: John Delea
Blaze alert: A fire rages out of control near the iconic Gougane Barra church in Co Cork last year Photo: John Delea
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Forest Service has this week issued a Extreme Fire Danger Risk warning, its highest level warning due to extremely dry weather.

It says under these extreme Fire Risk Conditions which are likely to peak tomorrow Wednesday and Thursday that any ignition source in hazardous fuels will give rise to rapid and unpredictable wildfire development and spread.

Under these conditions, in upland situations fire can be expected to cover extensive areas and pose extreme difficulties to suppression efforts and may potentially likely give rise to Major Emergency scenarios.

Analysis suggests that risks will be most acute in Western Coastal regions.

Pending further review, this risk condition will remain in place until 1200hrs on Friday, March 2, 2018 and will revert to Condition ORANGE at this point until further notice.

The service says an anticyclone system consistent with ‘Type A’ characteristics and centred over central Scandinavia is inducing moderate easterly airflows, low temperatures and very low air humidity levels over Ireland.

Nasa satellite picture shows smoke from a huge gorse fire in Co Galway in 2017
Nasa satellite picture shows smoke from a huge gorse fire in Co Galway in 2017

Where these conditions persist, and in the absence of significant precipitation they are likely to produce an Extreme Fire Danger Risk in westernmost coastal areas where hazardous fuels exist, and where precipitation and humidity levels are likely to be lowest.

These western locations are also associated with a strong human ignitions risk.

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Typically, extreme conditions derive from ‘Type A’ Northern European High Pressure Systems, where air circulates in a clockwise direction over the Northern European and Central European land masses.

This circulation across the land mass causes the air to shed moisture and become very dry, which in turn dries out vegetation on the ground very rapidly inducing high levels of combustibility, particularly in fine fuels.

'Take action'

The forest service said the Condition Red Extreme fire risk warnings is a comparatively rare event and implies that recipients should take immediate action to protect resources and property.

Such action may involve the mobilisation, assembly and prepositioning of resources such as water tankers, machinery, personnel and contract aviation support in high risk areas.

Preliminary notification of Aid to Civil Power / Aid to Civil Authority requests by relevant authorities may also be warranted where extreme conditions are deemed likely to exist, and where emergency response requirements may be likely to exceed the capabilities of civil authorities.

Forest owners / managers, other land managers, landowners and local authorities should implement fire patrols to exclude all fire activity from the landscape and enforce relevant fire protection legislation.

Rural residents should also implement a high degree of vigilance, and check on elderly or other vulnerable neighbours and assist with preparation and reassurance, and evacuation if this is deemed necessary by the Local Authorities.

Forecasted low temperatures are not expected to influence fire behaviour greatly.

Meteorological risks are likely to be compounded further by human ignition risks associated with the end of the open burning season, which ends on February 28th.

Based on observed fire activity to date, there is a strong risk and likelihood that landowners may try to utilise current dry weather conditions to complete burning operations in advance of the close date.

Current weather conditions are outside general prescription limits for safe prescribed burning.

The Department of Agriculture advise that such operations should not be attempted in these conditions, and during the closed burning period from March 1 to August 31.

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