Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) has given a cautious welcome to the 34% reduction in the number of gorse fires they attended in 2011 (3,897) compared to the previous year (5,895).
The reduction comes despite Fire Crews having to battle almost 2,000 gorse fires right across Northern Ireland from the 15 April – 4 May 2011 which resulted in Sunday 1 May 2011 being the busiest day on record for NIFRS.
However the current spell of dry sunny weather combined with a long mild winter has provided a tinder box landscape with conditions ripe for gorse fires to take hold, as evident across parts of Northern Ireland yesterday including Newry and Mourne, Ballymoney, Dunloy and Blacks Mountain Belfast.
As the Easter holidays approach NIFRS is warning of the extreme dangers and serious consequences of deliberate fire setting in the countryside.
Dale Ashford, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Safety Services, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said:
“It’s encouraging that the number of gorse fires we attended last year moderately declined however deliberate fire setting in the countryside is still is very much a serious community problem for Northern Ireland.
“As the drier weather takes hold I’m asking the public a simple question - where do you want your Fire & Rescue Service over the coming months? Up mountains tackling deliberately set fires for hours on end - potentially leaving your community at risk or at your local Fire Station ready to deal with life threatening emergencies?
“Around Easter time last year we experienced unprecedented levels of operational activity due largely to deliberately set fires ravaging our countryside right across Northern Ireland. Our Firefighters worked in arduous conditions for prolonged periods of time striving to protect life, property and the environment. We had the busiest day in the history of NIFRS during this period.
“Dealing with these types of incidents puts not only Firefighters’ lives at risk but the lives of everyone in the local community and drastically impacts upon NIFRS resources. People need to realise that we simply cannot be in 2 places at once and fighting gorse fires mean that Fire Appliances and Firefighters are diverted from other incidents. We have to put contingency plans in place to ensure continued emergency cover for towns and villages across Northern Ireland - this may result in a slight delay when responding.
“As an emergency service tackling gorse and wildland fires present extreme challenges for us. It means deploying Firefighters and their equipment, to usually quite remote locations, often for prolonged period of times, working under hazardous and intense heat to bring these fires under control. These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.
“It’s not just the larger fires on hillsides and mountains that impact upon resources, the smaller fires involving grass bushes also need to be dealt with quickly as they have the potential to spread and develop into bigger fires.
“We have been working hard to address the problem of gorse fires and educate people about the dangers and consequences of deliberate fire setting with partner agencies and community groups in recent years. However gorse fires still remain a community problem and I am appealing for help from the community in preventing these types of fires. Be vigilant for anyone starting fires deliberately and report any suspicious behaviour to the police.
“While the majority of gorse fires that we attend are started deliberately they can also start unintentionally by thoughtless and careless behaviour. Both deliberate and accidental fires can cost lives and we recommend that the public heed our fire safety advice to protect themselves and our countryside”
NIFRS fire safety advice in the countryside
- Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials properly.
- Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows.
- Only use barbecues in designated and safe areas and never leave them unattended. Keep children and ball games away from barbecues.
- Ensure that barbecues are fully extinguished and cold before disposing of their contents.
- Avoid using open fires in the countryside.
- Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through glass can start a fire. Take them home or put them in a waste or recycling bin.
- If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service. Don’t attempt to tackle fires that cannot be put out with no more than a bucket of water. Leave the area as soon as possible.
- Report any suspicious behaviour to the Police.
As the Easter holidays approach NIFRS is also reminding young people about the serious consequences of their actions should they make Hoax Calls to the Fire & Rescue Service.
Dale Ashford, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Safety Services, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service continued:
“The number of hoax calls and attacks on our Firefighters also traditionally spike at this time of year. I am pleased to say that overall the number of Hoax Calls has reduced over the past number of years and NIFRS continues to appeal to the community, and also to parents, to help educate their children about the consequences of such anti-social activities.
“Firefighters are part of the community and they work tirelessly to protect the local community. I want young people to enjoy their Easter break but to be aware of the stark reality of their actions should they choose to set deliberate fires or make Hoax Calls. Remember, we may be the target but it’s you and your local community who are the victims.”
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