A fire chief has warned that people starting illegal gorse fires are putting lives at risk, while gardaí in Cork and Kerry pledge to crack down on offenders this year.
It’s the time of year again when out-of-control fires to burn off vegetation in upland areas threaten life, property, wildlife and thousands of acres of forestry.
Fire services are sometimes stretched to the limit in coping with such fires, often in remote areas, leaving larger centres of population with reduced cover in the event of emergencies and major fires.
An estimated 16,000 hectares of land were destroyed by fires nationally last year, which cost the State around €20m.
In West Cork last year, fire units responded to 88 illegally-lit fires. The majority occurred in the Bantry area but there were also outbreaks in Macroom, Clonakilty, Kanturk and Bandon.
Gorse fires also formed a significant amount of the 1,600 incidents responded to by Kerry fire services.
Late March/April is a peak period for gorse fires, though such fires are banned under the Wildlife Act from Mar 1 to Aug 31.
“These fires put a tremendous strain on our resources as fire units are often away from locations where they could be needed for other emergencies,” acting chief fire officer for Kerry Maurice O’Connell told the Irish Examiner.
“Often, people who start the fires are not able to control them and lives, property and forestry are put risk. People should not now be lighting such fires as the season has passed. It’s completely illegal,” he said.
Prosecutions for starting gorse fires are few, despite warnings of crackdowns by state agencies. Penalties include a €1,500 fine, or six month’s imprisonment.
Mr O’Connell said it can be difficult to detect where such fires started and many are started on commonages.
Organisations such as Coillte, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the fire service, the IFA and Teagasc have come together in Kerry to provide a co-ordinated approach to tackling the problem. A similar approach is being taken by such agencies in Cork.
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