Gorse fires put severe pressure on fire fighters

The dramatic gorse fire scene on the slopes of Caherconree last week. Photo by Domnick Walsh
The dramatic gorse fire scene on the slopes of Caherconree last week. Photo by Domnick Walsh

Sinead Kelleher

Firefighters in Kerry were out fighting Gorse Fires across the county during Storm Emma in what was one of the busiest periods for wildfires in recent years.

From February 18 until March 2 there was 55 call-outs in Kerry to Gorse Fires to Ballinskelligs, Cahersiveen, Inch, Boolteens, Ballybunion, Ballyheigue and Dingle. 

While it is legal to burn gorse up until March 1, firefighters said the past week had been one of the busiest periods in recent years for out-of-control wildfires. 

On Thursday as the whole county prepared to batten down the hatches ahead of Storm Emma's arrival, hard-pressed fire crews were battling blazes in Ballyheigue and Ballinskelligs - both of which threatened property in the area. 

The fire in Ballyheigue took hold on Wednesday and raged for more than 24 hours, coming within 30m of one property in the area. 

Two properties were in danger from the blaze and fire crews remained in Ballyheigue until late Thursday evening as they attempted to bring the fire under control. 

On the other side of the county crews battled a fire in Ballinskelligs, one of a number which took place in southwest Kerry over the past week in a glut that placed fire crews under severe pressure. 

"They were out battling the gorse fires while the red alert was in place and then all crews had to go on standby for the duration of the weather warning," senior assistant chief fire officer, Vincent Hussey said. 

The huge number of calls out in the past two weeks have put fire crews under intense pressure as they attempt to control raging gorse fires across Kerry. 

The huge amount of manpower needed meant that if a serious incident such as a road accident or domestic fire had occurred, crews would have had to have to come from outside the county to attend it or crews would have to be called from the mountains to attend the blaze. 

Last year there was 174 call-outs to Kerry Fire Service but this year in just two weeks  there has been 55 call-outs this year - one third of all call-outs last year.  

In the same period there was 5 in 2016. However much of these figures are related to weather conditions during this time of year.

Conditions had become very dry allowing for farmers to burn gorse prior to the March 1 date during the  legal burning season. 

"We have been very busy. It is within season for burning until March 1 but the fires have to be controlled but they don't seem to be," he said. 

"Crews shouldn't be out battling gorse fires when more serous incidents need to be attended.

"The danger is we can't get to other incidents," Mr Hussey said.

From now until August 31 it is illegal to burn gorse and we are urging landowners to heed this and not burn gorse.