Monday 27 January 2020

'Reckless behaviour' is a leading cause of gorse fires, expert says

Aerial footage of the blaze on Slieve Bloom
Aerial footage of the blaze on Slieve Bloom
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

Reckless and malicious behaviour is how many of the country's gorse fires are starting during the heatwave, a spokesperson for Coillte has said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, managing director of Coillte Gerard Murphy said that although no cause has been determined for the Slieve Bloom gorse fire, many of the fires are 'man-made'.

"I still think that most forest fires that start are man-made. It can either be accidental, I think in forest situations it's most likely reckless behaviour, or people lighting fires maybe for picnics," Mr. Murphy said.

"It can also be malicious. A number of cases certainly in my opinion looked very close to being malicious.

"Over the last 10 to 15 days, we ourselves have been called to around 50 fires, 20 of them very significant. There are numerous other gorse fires that I know the fire services are also battling. We've fires all across the country."

According to Mr. Murphy, the fire that started in the Slieve Bloom mountains on the Laois-Offaly border is now "contained", but no cause has been determined yet.

"At the moment the fire is contained. Yesterday we had over 120 personnel on the ground between the Air Corps, the army, Coillte personnel and backed up by helicopters. 

"We've got it under control under an exceptionally difficult situation. It's not out, we still have significant hot spots. We've crews on the ground monitoring it and it will all depend on the weather.

"If the weather, in terms of heat, picks up today and wind starts to change direction, we could have a high risk again of it resuming. At this stage no, we can't confirm how it started. It started, we think, in an area that has been burnt before."

Coillte are urging the public to be "vigilant" in their actions this weekend as the red alert for forest fires remains in place across Ireland. 

"It's very important the message gets out to the general public to remain incredibly vigilant at this moment in time. We're in a red alert, it's very rare in Ireland to get this for forest fire," Mr. Murphy said.

Mr. Murphy also advised against the public having campfires "in all circumstances" while the heatwave continues.

"We have at the moment what I call Mediterranean style conditions out there- drought, very dry vegetation, highly combustible. 

"Any lighting of fires for any purposes in forests or out in the open moorland areas is incredibly reckless." 

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