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Helicopters monitoring 'hotspots' after fires in Killarney National Park extinguished

Dry ground and strong winds helped the fire to spread.

Image of the fires in Killarney on Saturday.
Image of the fires in Killarney on Saturday.
Image: Kerry County Council

Updated Apr 26th 2021, 4:20 PM

FIRES IN KILLARNEY National Park in Co Kerry have been brought under control, with the last fire “essentially extinguished”, according to Kerry County Council.  

Thousands of acres of the national park were engulfed in flames on Saturday, prompting a massive fire fighting operation involving Kerry Fire Service, park and council staff, gardaí, Civil Defence and the Air Corps.

The fire service and air corps are continuing to monitor the situation, dampening down any hot spots that emerge in the park

“There are no ongoing issues at the moment besides monitoring the situation,” a council spokesperson said. 

Early estimations indicate that 2,500-3,000 hectares of the park have been damaged, according to the Department of Heritage, making up to 50% of the terrestrial area  – total area of the park less the area of the lakes – of the national park. 

After visiting the site today, Heritage Minister Darragh O’Brien and Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan announced the accelerated recruitment of an additional 50 conservation rangers “providing additional resources to assist in responding to such fires and wildlife crime more generally and indeed to stop it from happening in the first instance”. 

“While the exact cause of these events is still to be determined, wildfires do not occur naturally in Ireland. The main cause of such conflagrations is thought to be the deliberate starting of fires without concern for the emergency services, the local wildlife, habitat, communities or even private property close by,” said O’Brien. 

“And they are set knowing them to be illegal. The devastation this has caused cannot be overstated.”

Noonan said he was “thoroughly devastated” by what he witnessed during today’s visit to the park, saying “to deliberately destroy precious upland habitats in this way is absolutely criminal”. 

The National Parks and Wildlife Service are now working with An Garda Síochána to investigate the cause of the fire and fully assess the damage.  

Speaking earlier today, Kerry Chief Fire Officer Andrew Macilwraith told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the situation was “a lot better this morning”. 

Three areas were on fire over the weekend, with one final sector attended to by emergency services today. 

Macilwraith said there were strong winds, low humidity and dry grounds which helped the fires to spread quickly. 

Almost 90,000 litres of water were dropped on Purple Hill and surrounding areas of gorse in the last two days, according to the Irish Air Corps who are continuing to monitor the situation this evening. 

Macilwraith said it was “very hard” to determine the cause of the fires. It may have spread from ”something as small as somebody had a small barbeque or a small fire”.

The Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan said the fires have been “absolutely devastating” for the national park and its wildlife.

“There have to be consequences for people who set these fires. They’re not national phenomenon,” Noonan said on Morning Ireland.

“If they are agriculture-related, I think there need to be consequences there for people who set these fires deliberately.”

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He said in the coming weeks, the situation will be examined and there will be a “detailed consideration of the environmental impact”. 

The Irish Wildlife Trust is calling for a full investigation into the causes and consequences of the fire as it feels the law surrounding illegal fires ought to be enforced and a cultural shift is needed to discourage the burning of land for agricultural purposes.

“Politicians and farming organisations must show leadership in this regard,” the IWT said. 

The Department of Housing and said all access to Tomies Wood in Killarney is closed until further notice due to the fires.

“Members of the public are asked to please stay away from the area as their presence could hamper the ongoing emergency services personnel working on site,” the department said on Twitter.

In the Mourne Mountains, an operation to put out one of the largest gorse fires in recent years in Northern Ireland was scaled down yesterday.

After three days fighting the fires, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said it is no longer a major incident. 

Area commander with the NI Fire and Rescue Service, Mark Smith, told BBC radio’s Good Morning Ulster that he would be “angry” and “extremely disappointed” if this fire was deliberately set.

“Whilst a fire that starts at 23.00/00.00 BST comes to our attention halfway up a mountain it’s hard for me to say here today that that was accidental,” he said.

“So my best guess and with my experience of all the years of doing this I would imagine this was probably a deliberate fire.”

- With reporting from Adam Daly 

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