Public urged to take all steps possible to prevent wildfires
Wildfires have the capability to devastate farmland, wildlife and protected habitats, as well as the lives of people living and working in rural communities. The risk at springtime is particularly prevalent as dead vegetation left over from the winter, higher temperatures and lower humidity levels can come together with deadly effect. We only have to look back to last year when by June fire crews had tackled more than 500 wildfires. At one stage the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) had to deal with three separate incidents involving 180-200 firefighters.
In the Mourne’s, an area of outstanding natural beauty enjoyed by many, there have been over 1000 wildfires in the last 5 years along causing untold damage to wildlife, habitats, soil and water conditions. Astonishing 90% of these incidents are classed as deliberate.
We must state that there is a difference between prescribed or controlled burning and wildfires. Prescribed burning is the controlled burning of heather and grass plants. This is an effective method of land management with a vital role to play in the maintenance and recovery of several habitat types, including heather moorland. Whereas, wildfire is an unplanned and uncontrolled fire.
The ease with which wildfires can start, is a threat that our Fire and Rescue Services must be prepared for. Successful partnerships in high-risk areas, promoting cooperation and collaboration on wildfire issues are key. In this, gamekeepers, farmers and land managers have a particularly important role, as they are frequently the first to see and report wildfires and their specialist equipment is invaluable in helping put them out.
But everyone can do their bit in preventing them in the first place, by following some simple rules when in the countryside:
- Do not discard cigarettes.
- Please do not lit campfires or use BBQs as they are a frequent cause of wildfires.
- Dispose of all litter appropriately.
- Do not release sky lanterns. Once released, there is no control over where they end up.
If anyone finds themselves in a position where they encounter a wildfire that they are unable to bring under control safely, move to a safe location up wind and call the emergency services on 999 immediately, giving an accurate location of the fire.