A helicopter dropping water on the gorse fires on Monday. Sasko Lazarov/

'The situation has vastly improved': Gorse fires on Howth Head now contained

The fires have burned an area of approximately 65 acres since last month.

GORSE FIRES IN Howth are beginning to come under control after burning for over a month.

Firefighters from Dublin Fire Brigade remained on Howth Head overnight on Wednesday to continue to monitor the blaze and to tackle hotspots and flare-ups.

Station Officer Darren O’Connor told The Journal that “the situation has vastly improved” with the fire now contained to a perimeter of around 2.5km. 

Drones with thermal imaging capabilities are being used to identify hotspots so the fire service can continue to monitor them.

It has been a very difficult fire to tackle due to the fact that it was burning on a slope and access in parts was extremely difficult for firefighters,” O’Connor said. 

The Air Corps is assisting firefighters by dumping water on more inaccessible areas, while a 700 metre long firebreak has been completed along Carrickbrack Road to protect homes on the hill. 

The fires have burned an area of approximately 65 acres since they were first identified on 22 June. 

The spread has been exacerbated by the high temperatures Ireland is currently experiencing. 

Met Éireann has extended the Status Yellow high temperature weather warning for the entire country. It was due to expire this evening but will now be in place until 9am tomorrow morning.

Years of dried-out vegetation on Howth Head has allowed the fire to spread more easily. O’Connor said this has been particularly difficult for crews to deal with.

“It burns with very little oxygen, it results in a lot of smoke and it’s very, very hot. As it burns deep into the ground, it involves digging it out and getting water onto it,” he said. 

He added that the fires are not currently intense, but that fire crews are concentrating on a pathway known locally as The Bog of Frogs. 

“There’s some hotspots burning in the vegetation up near the pathway and we’re trying to protect homes in that area,” he added. 

Local Labour councillor Brian McDonagh was inspecting the progress made in tackling the fires yesterday, which he described as “very serious” and “unprecedented”. 

He told The Journal that residents in the area have found it very difficult to deal with the fire being so close to their homes.

“I know people with any kind of lung condition found it very difficult to live near it and had to leave. You just can’t live in your house when you’re so close and there’s so much smoke,” he said.

He said that at its worst, the level of smoke was affecting people living in Portmarnock, approximately 8km away.

“It’s not good to be inhaling smoke for any period of time, so that level of smoke for that number of weeks was very seriously affecting residents,” he added.

McDonagh said that an environmental management plan is needed in order to manage the land and prevent gorse fires of this level from happening in the future.

This will include increasing the herd of goats that are already on the mountain to help to keep the gorse at a low level.

Fingal County Council has secured a goat herder and plans to introduce 25 goats in August in order to reduce the vegetation growth in the area.

“Goats would’ve previously been on the land grazing, so that’s what the attempt will be to bring it back to a certain stage. Whether that’s going to be enough is another question,” McDonagh said, adding that they must identify the most natural way to manage the gorse.

“The big issue is to try and have a natural rejuvenation of vegetation there which will try and minimise the risk of recurrence in a few years when it grows back,” he added.

He said that the extent to which the wildfires have burned this year can’t be allowed to reoccur.

“Given the likelihood of the conditions changing every year with global warming, we need to try and use environmental means like planting trees that retain moisture, appropriate vegetation, keeping open fire breaks that will mean we don’t get such large scale fires spreading in the future,” he said.

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