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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 15 December, 2019
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Thousands of acres of Irish forest at 'major risk of destruction'

The high temperatures of the past weekend have left Irish firefighters under pressure as many gorse fires broke out across the country.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Updated 9.59pm

COILLTE HAS WARNED that thousands of acres of forest, moorland and wildlife are now at “major risk of destruction”, as gorse fires spread out of control in Galway today.

The situation at Cloosh Valley escalated this afternoon, with the local fire brigade called in to protect the Galway Wind Park wind farm, which is in close proximity.

The Air Corps, which provided assistance over the weekend, has again been called in to assist efforts to extinguish the blazes.

Already, there has been significant damage to hundreds of acres of hectares but this “has the potential to run into thousands of hectares if fires, such as the one in Cloosh Valley, continue”, according to Coillte.

Earlier, Coillte confirmed that some forest fires around the country were started deliberately over the weekend.

The state-sponsored company said that recent dry weather has greatly increased the risk of gorse and forestry fire, but deliberate fire starting has also been a significant factor in the cause of many of the fires on Coillte property around the country.

“The recent spate of fires has been responsible for the worst damage to Coillte’s estate since 2011. The combined loss of productive timber, together with the cost of replanting the affected areas will result in a multi-million euro bill,” Coillte’s managing director Gerard Murphy said.

Meanwhile, firefighters were under pressure this weekend as they battled a large number of gorse fires sparked by recent high temperatures across the country.

Dublin Fire Brigade attended 46 separate incidents of grass and gorse fires – of various sizes – across the capital since Friday.

Gorse is a dry material which can set alight from any spark, or through spontaneous combustion from the sun and high temperatures.

A spokesperson for Dublin’s Fire Service said the majority of the Dublin fires this weekend occurred in Howth head and the Dublin mountains.

“It’s the rise in temperature and good weather that sets them off,” he told TheJournal.ie this afternoon.

Howth Gorse Fires Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

“Once they get going, they’re very difficult to get near to put out. What we do is we make sure everyone is safe, that houses are safe and that type of thing.

“Sometimes they’re at the very top of a mountain and it’s not really too safe to get to them sometimes so we just let them burn their surroundings and put them out that way,” he said.

Mayo house fire

Gorse fires have been causing havoc across the country for days with a Mayo family losing their home after their thatched roof caught alight from a nearby blaze on Friday evening.

Firefighters were unable to extinguish the fire at the home near Kiltimagh before the two-storey building completely burned out. No members of the family were injured.

“On Friday evening, we had a forest fire outside Kiltimagh, and towards the evening time the fire was moving along but it was a good distance away from the houses,” Mayo’s chief fire officer Seamus Murphy said.

There were a few trees that went on fire and apparently some of the vegetation caught fire and was wind-borne and was blown some distance onto a roof.

Residue of the vegetation landed on the thatched roof and set it on fire.

“If you get a fire in a thatched roof, it’s quite impossible to extinguish it, particularly if it gets established because of the nature of the construction and if the fire gets burning deep down in the thatch, it’s impossible to extinguish it. You have to pull the thatch off completely and try to extinguish it that way,” Murphy said.

The gorse and forest fires have caused pressure and difficulties for the Mayo firefighters because they are left working beyond their capacity in some areas, according to Murphy.

“We have to try prioritise it as best we can. Of course, if firefighters are out at incidents they’re not readily available to respond if we have a structural fire. It all adds up, particularly if it drags on for a second or third day,” Murphy said.

Take precautions

Murphy stressed that the Mayo Fire Services generally advise everyone to exercise extreme caution if they are out in areas of bogland or forestry in high temperatures.

“A small thing like a discarded cigarette or a barbecue can get out of control and take on a life of it’s own and be quite hard to extinguish,” he said.

With reporting from Sean Murray

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