The legal timeframe for managing gorse in upland areas ends this week but a senior fire officer said he was concerned very few farmer-managed fires had occurred during the permitted period, September and March 1.
Under wildlife protection laws, burning scrubland is illegal from later this week until August 31. But extreme and irresponsible gorse bush burning is threatening homes, and lives.
Assistant chief fire officer for West Cork, Finbarr McNulty, said just two scrubland fires were reported throughout the autumn and winter, which was extremely low compared to previous years.
In corresponding periods in the past two years, the fire services recorded 13 and 21, respectively.
The fire chief said there were increasing concerns that dry conditions in March and April could lead to illegally-lit fires getting out of control and damaging properties.
Mr McNulty is urging people living in areas, prone to gorse fires, to immediately clear gorse bushes and scrubland that pose a risk, near their homes.
The county council-run fire service had to deal with 114 illegal fires in West Cork in 2015, a further 127 in 2016 and 110 last year.
Fighting upland fires, Mr McNulty said, are a considerable drain on resources and more importantly a major safety concern to fire crews and family homes.
Last year, a house in Co Mayo was engulfed by a gorse fire which got out of control. Lives are at risk, Mr McNulty warned.
“March and April are the busiest months for wildfires.
“May can also be busy with occasional incidents in June, July and August,” he noted.
In particular, the fire chief wants to ensure people protect their properties by ensuring surrounding flammable vegetation is cleared.
“For anybody living in areas that are prone to gorse fires, we advise that they remove gorse and dead vegetation from around buildings, oil tanks, fences, forestry and poles as soon as possible in order to reduce the risk of losses due to gorse fires,” he said.
“When they aren’t burned under control during the September to February period they contribute to the fuel load accumulation which is at risk of uncontrolled burning from March to August.”
In recent years, he said the fire service had to protect a number of buildings in the Baltimore, Beara, Kealkil and Glengarriff areas as illegally-set fires got out of control.
“One solution would be for smaller areas of land to be burned as part of a multi-year plan to produce a patchwork of vegetation at different stages of growth. This would prevent the large fires such as that which occurred in Gougane Barra last April,” Mr McNulty suggested.
The Cork Wildlife Cooperation group, meanwhile, was formed in recent years ago to counter illegal fires. A recent development has led to a group of farmers coming together to help to burn each other’s land, drawing up controlled fire plans to ensure burning is carried out safely.