Northern Ireland

NI Fire Service gorse fire battle stops 1,828 fires

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue crews have responded to 1,010 gorse and forestry fires over the past four days.

The Fire and Rescue Service said it dealt with 255 gorse fires at 31 locations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

More than 200 personnel were deployed to tackle blazes across Northern Ireland including at Ballycastle, Garvagh and Omagh.

Deputy chief fire officer Chris Kerr said the service was busier than it had been in 30 years.

Since 15 April the service has responded to 1,828 gorse and forestry fires in total.

Mr Kerr said that crews were "performing magnificently", but that they have had to interrupt firefighting to rescue people who had been watching gorse fires and become trapped.

"People have gone along to effectively sight see around some of these very spectacular incidents and because of changing wind direction and changing fire conditions some of those people have been cut off by fire and fire crews have had to be diverted to rescue members of the public," he said.

Mournes

"So I would appeal to people to stay away from the scenes of these fires and leave it to the Fire and Rescue Service, we have the resources and the professionalism to address the issue."

Meanwhile, NI Water has asked members of the public to help protect the Mournes and avoid walking in them until the area receives some rain.

The Mournes is a designated special area of conservation and an important part of the drinking water catchment area for Northern Ireland's water supply.

Dymphna Gallagher, head of quality and compliance with NI Water, said it was "unfortunate that these fires are ruining the beautiful scenery and the quality of raw water flowing into the Silent Valley Reservoir".

"Years of work building up this area have been destroyed in a few short days," she said.

"It will take a long time and a great deal of work and commitment from those involved in preserving the Mournes to return it to the condition it was in."

Wildlife

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has said it is deeply concerned about the impact of the fires on local wildlife and the environment.

Anne-Marie McDevitt, conservation manager at RSPB NI, said: "The damage these fires have caused can't be under-estimated.

"Heather moorland is home to some of our rarest and most stunning wildlife, plant species such as sundew and bog cotton, birds such as hen harrier and skylark and mammals such as the Irish hare."

Ms McDevitt warned that the damage to bogland areas could have a significant environmental impact.

"They filter water and store it, provide us with clean water and protect us from flash flooding. They also act as a natural carbon store, helping to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment."

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