April 24th 2017
Livestock, wildlife, acres of farmland, conservation areas and forestry were left decimated over the weekend with dozens of firefighting units battling gorse fires in numerous parts of the country.
Parts of Cork and Kerry were particularly affected, with firefighters attending gorse fires in Bantry, Kenmare, Knocknagoshel and Gougane Barra. A number of houses were threatened by the fires. In one case, the fires were only 100m away from a farmhouse before being brought under control.
The fire at Gougane Barra covered 4km to 5km as fire crews spent over two days battling the blaze. Dead sheep and damage to thousands of acres of farmland were reported.
Local authorities, media outlets and social media users utilized Twitter and Facebook to highlight the extremity of the fires in the area, with images and videos capturing the fire’s devastation.
“Last night over 30 FireFighters from Bantry, Macroom, Dunmanway, Skibbereen along with the Incident Control Unit from Ballincollig attended a large Gorse Fire in Gougane Barra. A house, shed and a large area of forestry were protected from the advancing fire,” reported Cork County Fire service.
Concerned individuals expressed their outrage on Stop Gorse Fires’ (SGF) Facebook page about the spread of illegal fires across their local areas. “Welcome to Fairytale Ireland, dear tourists,” posted one commentator, “wake up. This is the sad reality,” while other called on their local politicians to start taking this issue more seriously.
Burning of vegetation and gorse fires is strictly forbidden, along with hedge cutting, from the beginning of March until the beginning of September each year. The Heritage Bill, proposed by Minister Heather Humphreys, and dubbed the anti-heritage bill by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, seeks to make vegetation burning and hedge cutting legal in March and August respectively.
However, the bill has been met with strong opposition and has not yet been passed, meaning incidents of vegetation burning and hedge cutting from March to September remains illegal.
With over 15 wildfires recorded at the end of March in Co Kerry, Waterford, Galway, Donegal, Louth and Mayo – 8 of which were in areas protected for nature conservation – the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) made a statement calling on individuals to be vigilant and report any illegal burning.
“Every year we see the same wildfire wipe-out as hillsides and bogs get torched…. We need to see greater coordination between the Gardaí, the NPWS and Department of Agriculture to clamp down on this illegal activity,” said IWT’s campaign Officer, Padraig Fogarty. He also thanked members of the fire service for bringing the fires under control and members of the public for reporting these illegal activities.
Different species of birds nesting in the upland areas are particularly vulnerable because of these fires.
The IFA recently defended gorse bush burning despite the damage done to farmland and livestock and claimed fine weather and recreational users of the land might also have caused some of the wildfires.