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illegal wildfires

'Man-made fire is now a permanent feature of our year': Minister condemns 300-hectare fire in Wicklow

The heritage minister has called those that deliberately start wildfires “a scourge on society”.

THE HERITAGE MINISTER has condemned an illegal 300-hectare fire in Wicklow Mountains National Park, condemning the fact that wildfires are a common occurrence each year, and that those that start them are “a scourge on our society”.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan has announced increased patrols and aerial surveillance using drones in national parks and reserves in response, after visiting the site to see the damage today.

“Well over 300 hectares of natural habitat have been damaged and destroyed over the past few days through illegal upland fires,” Noonan said. “The same scenes have played out in other locations across the country during the latest Met Éireann Orange High Fire Risk alert.

Controlled fires are allowed to be set on farmland and eligible forestry land to clear shrubbery up until the end of February. But from 1 March until 31 August, it is illegal to set fires on these lands, and doing so risks prosecution.

Citing a devastating fire in Co Kerry’s Killarney National Park that took place last April, Noonan said that these scenes “are by no means unfamiliar”.

We see them every year, including in the State’s most valuable natural assets – our national parks and nature reserves – which provide such enormous benefit to nature, society and the economy.
Let’s be clear: these fires do not occur naturally. They’re set deliberately, with no concern for the wide-ranging impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing, private property, tourism, emergency services, the defence forces and indeed the public purse.

“That’s without mentioning the priceless wildlife and habitats that are brutally scorched and the consequent impact of soil mobilisation and siltation on streams, rivers and lakes.

I’m mindful that the risk of man-made fire is now a permanent feature of our year. As night follows day, at the first extended period of dry weather, these fires are set.

“They are all illegal after the 1 of March and invariably they get – or are allowed to get – out of control. The people who set them, and I believe they are known in their communities, are a scourge on society and their activities cost all of us. This mentality must change.

“The National Parks and Wildlife Service maintains increased on-the-ground patrols at all National Parks and Reserves at times of high fire risk.

“I have increased NPWS’s staffing resource considerably since taking office and growing the organisation further is a key priority for me.

Noonan said that Defence Forces personnel and equipment may be used by the State in these instances, and a review of the Wildlife Act will also be progressed.

Minister Noonan said he would be coordinating with his colleagues Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, and the Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan on how to progress a coordinated response on the issue.

The Department asks all countryside users to be vigilant, to report any suspicious activity to An Garda Síochána, and to report any uncontrolled or unattended fires immediately to the Fire and Emergency Services via 112/999 service.

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