‘Control gorse burning or wildfires will kill someone’

As the number of gorse wildfires in Kerry has almost trebled so far this year, a warning has been issued that human life will be lost if the situation is not controlled.

In the first six months, the county fire service was called to 209 gorse fires, compared to 75 for the same period last year.

Thousands of acres in Killarney National Park were damaged, as well as large stretches in other mountainous areas.

South Kerry Independent Alliance Cllr Michael Gleeson called for an agreed approach between the council, the fire service and landowners on the issue.

“If something isn’t done, human life will be lost in Kerry because of gorse fires. The fires have come perilously close to people’s homes,” he told yesterday’s council meeting.

Killarney Wildfire Alliance has urged Arts and Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys to introduce a system of planned gorse burning, with revised dates, as the only sensible way to control wild fires.

At present, burning is banned under the Wildlife Act from the beginning of March to the end of August.

The alliance, however, called for a change in the dates, either to a fixed new date, or flexibility on the current date.

Ms Humphreys is currently reviewing the situation and over 70% of submissions to her department have called for flexibility in the timeframe for burning.

The alliance pointed out that planned burning is essential and advocated a “sensible” approach to allow burning until mid-April. There should also be a certain flexibility when weather does not allow for burning by mid-April and there is an urgent need to burn, it suggested.

The alliance has also sought a practical approach from the Department of Agriculture on land eligibility and for sensitive lands to be monitored in dry weather between mid-February and mid-May.

“Monitoring staff should be capable of dealing with fires that are in the early stages,” it said in a submission.

It stressed that state-funded fire breaks are essential within the national park and on neighbouring commonage and mountains.

It further pointed out that, since the end of the management process operated by Coillte in the Killarney area from 1972 to 1989, there is now a highly dangerous situation with mountain and commonage overgrown.

“It is now necessary to put in place a strategy to bring these areas back to a condition where they can be managed. Our advice is that this is likely to take five years and will need special assistance,” it said.

The alliance quoted records showing that up to 70% of fires were malicious, 20%- 30% were by landowners clearing their own land and 10% were accidental.

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