THE Garda and forestry companies have launched a joint campaign to prevent a repeat of last year's spate of wildfires which caused massive damage to plantations.
As part of the initiative Garda inspectors have been appointed across the country to prevent and detect forest fires.
More than 1,280ha of forestry were destroyed by wildfires last spring, with the total cost of the damage coming to almost €7m.
Plantations were damaged in western counties from Donegal to Kerry, while fires also caused serious losses in Wicklow and Carlow.
Landowners considering burning scrubland have been warned that the cold winter snap had resulted in "tinder-box" conditions.
The presence of large quantities of dead and dried out vegetation means fires could prove difficult to control and farmers have been told to exercise extreme caution.
It was pointed at the launch of the campaign that the burning of scrubland within one mile of forestry plantations was illegal unless prior written notice was given to the fire service and gardai.
This notice must be given between seven and 35 days in advance of burning and must include detailed safety measures. Failure to provide written notice could result in a prosecution and a sentence of up to a year in prison.
The burning off of scrubland usually starts in early March and Garda Superintendent Fergus Healy said there was a responsibility on every member of the community to undertake burning in a "controlled manner".
Supt Healy said landowners had to take the necessary precautions to ensure that fires were under control at all times. He urged farmers to contact the local fire service for advice or to visit the Garda website at www.garda.ie.
"Garda inspectors have been appointed all across the country to work closely with our partner agencies and the community to prevent and detect land and forest fires.
"We want to reduce the number of fires in 2011 and we recognise that the best way to do that is to seek the assistance of the community," he said.
"We're asking people to think of their neighbours and their neighbours' property when they need to burn material. Safety should always come first. Informing Gardai of your intention to burn is your obligation under the law and it's your responsibility as a neighbour."