"You are breaking the law. You are putting my life and the lives of your family, your neighbours and your friends at risk" — the stark warning from a senior fire officer about illegal and unnecessary gorse fires.
In the past seven days, there have been 42 call-outs to gorse fires in Kerry.
The station officer in one of the busiest fire stations in the southwest is appealing to people not to put his and his colleagues’’ lives at further risk with these wildfires.
Dozens of call-outs during the fine spell of last week saw fire fighters respond to wildfires in the south and west of Kerry with Killarney, Glenbeigh, Killorglin and Glencar among the worst hit.
As well as burning 150 acres in the Killarney National Park near the Victorian tea house of Dinis, the fires came close to Tomies woodland — the ancient oak forests there are protected as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
Kerry’s senior assistant chief fire officer, Maurice O’Connell said not only are those setting fires endangering lives, but they were causing severe damage to woodlands and commercial forestry.
The fires are often on remote mountains so they draw units away from urban centres and road traffic accidents. A huge fire near Castlegregory in west Kerry burned overnight on Monday and on into Tuesday and drew crews from Dingle, Tralee and Castlegregory to prevent it reaching commercial forestry. At one stage the fire came within 200 metres of a residence.
“It’s putting our resources under terrible strain,” Mr O’Connell said.
Kerry has 108 fire firefighters: apart from two station officers, all are ’’retained’’ or part-time which means they leave their workplaces to respond to call-outs.
In an effort to avoid a repeat of last week, Paudie Mangan, the station officer at Killarney Fire Station, is appealing directly to the public in Kerry: “Every time somebody illegally sets a gorse fire, my colleagues and I respond, putting ourselves at risk … spending hours, sometimes days, extinguishing a fire. Every time we are tending to a gorse fire, we are taking personnel and resources from the frontline, away from a house fire, away from a road traffic collision or another emergency."
“The next time you are thinking about burning gorse, think again. You are breaking the law. You are putting my life and the lives of your family, your neighbours and your friends at risk,” Mr Mangan said.
Wildfires in Kerry are an annual problem, despite campaigns of recent years. Last year there were 252 gorse fires — an increase of more than a third on 2018.
Controlled burning is being carried out by fire service along the edges of the Mangerton Mountain area of national park where out of control fires regularly threaten the pine forests of the national park as well as houses.