Call for choppers to detect fire starters

Cork County Council has been urged to use helicopters or drones to video offenders responsible for causing devastating wildfires in West Cork which have cost the local authority more than €1m to tackle since 2013.

Councillors demanded a “get tough attitude” on prosecuting offenders after being advised of the financial cost of fighting forest, gorse and bog fires, set deliberately in the region.

Chief fire officer Seamus Coughlan said fire crews in the coastal area responded to 1,124 wildfires from 2013 to the end of April, just past.

In 2013, there were 317 incidents, 173 in 2014, 237 in 2015, and 268 last year.

Up to the end of April this year, 129 incidents were recorded, which included a major outbreak near Gougane Barra which, as well as environmental damage, killed wildlife two weeks ago. 

Mr Coughlan said he estimated the costs which excluded the annual retainer for part-time firefighters in the region — at €1,075,539.

Councillor Christopher O’Sullivan, who sought the report, said the figures were “staggering” and said “the idiots” responsible had a complete disregard for people’s lives and the damage they were doing to wildlife, property, and tourism. 

He said firefighters might not have been able to respond to other emergencies as they had been tasked to the wildfires.

The councillor said he was fearful an innocent hillwaker or farmer could get killed one day in the Mizen or Beara peninsulas where such fires are commonplace.

“Some wildlife species are under threat of extinction. We need to put up helicopters and we need to get prosecutions,” he said.

Councillor Joe Carroll noted that, a few years ago, the council used helicopters to identify people illegally burning rubbish He said the council had “to get them back in the sky”.

“The people who start these fires haven’t a brain in their head. We have to see prosecutions,” he said.

Councillor Paul Hayes said there was no deterrent because, as far as he was aware, there had been little or no prosecutions.

He was concerned that firefighters could be killed tackling such large blazes, as was councillor Mary Hegarty, who said the cost to the environment was huge as well as the harm to tourism.

Mr Hayes said he had spoken to people who had witnessed the recent fire at Gougane Barra and was told they had heard the cries of hill sheep and the screams of wild animals being burnt to death.

“We have had 129 incidents alone this year, up to the end of April. It looks as though this could be a record year,” said Mr O’Sullivan.


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