Northern Ireland

PSNI warn gorse fires are 'putting lives at risk'

Police are warning that those deliberately starting gorse fires were putting people's lives at risk and would face prosecution.

There were gorse fires across NI over the bank holiday weekend - at one stage an average of one call every 45 seconds was being received.

The worst of the blazes on Tuesday was at Glenshesk near Ballycastle.

The Mournes and Gortin were also badly affected, although the flames there have now subsided.

By 2100 BST on Tuesday the fire service had received over 300 calls, predominantly concerning gorse fires.

It said it was engaged in operations "to protect life and property" at 31 locations across Northern Ireland with over 200 personnel deployed.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Chris Kerr warned the situation could get worse over the coming days.

"Unfortunately, the high levels of operational activity we have been experiencing look set to continue.

"I am increasingly concerned about the impact changing weather conditions may have on the overall fire situation - since high winds are forecast during the night," he added.

BBC NI reporter Alexandra McKenzie visited one of the worst effected areas in Ballycastle on Tuesday afternoon.

She said that although fears the fire would spread to the Ballypatrick forest had not been realised, damage was nonetheless extensive.

"The fire has wiped out hundreds of acres of farmland. That will take years before it can be used again," she said.

The fire has now been brought under control and crews have been withdrawn.

The situation is being monitored by locals on the ground.

'Destruction'

Two boys, aged 10 and 15, have been questioned by police about a gorse fire in County Tyrone.

They said they were also following up reports that a man with a petrol can was seen in the Rostrevor area on Saturday evening and that two youths were spotted lighting fires on Slieve Gullion Mountain in south Armagh on Sunday night.

Assistant Chief Constable Gary White said the thought that "individuals may be deliberately causing such destruction is very hard to comprehend".

"Not only are they putting livestock in danger, and destroying the habitat of wildlife, but as seen in the necessary evacuations in Annalong and the Lenamore Road in Omagh, homes and therefore the lives of residents are being threatened," he said.

"I would also appeal to those people who are causing the fires to think of their actions and the consequences involved which will most certainly include prosecution."

A fire on the Munie road in Ballymena on Friday is also believed to have been started deliberately. Police said it claimed around 40 acres of land and, at one stage, threatened to destroy a farm house and out buildings.

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Peter Craig said it had been "phenomenally busy".

"What we are highly concerned with is protecting life, property and infrastructure," he said.

"In Rostrevor, I saw a ball of flames rolling towards a property. Firefighters, the local community and property owners themselves worked extremely hard to make sure that that person's home did not go up in flames."

The NIFRS said the holiday weekend had been the busiest in its history.

In a 24-hour period from midday on Sunday, the fire service received 927 calls and sent appliances to a total of 376 incidents. Gorse and grassland fires accounted for 194 of these.

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