The scourge of gorse fires ravaging the Irish landscape is back with a vengeance, with reports across the country of fires affecting vital areas of biodiversity.
The Kerry Fire Department said it had been under “enormous pressure” to tackle the gorse fires and prevent them from reaching homes and destroying forest and wildlife.
Negligence can endanger lives and cause serious damage to forests and wildlife, while placing a significant financial burden on local authorities, a fire department spokesperson said.
“From Friday to Monday morning, firefighters had 23 calls, 15 of which were gorse/bog/hill wildfires,” he said.
These fires also strain the department’s resources as fire units are often moved away from urban areas to deal with blazes in rural hills, he added.
The Dingle Peninsula, Kenmare area and Killorglin saw fires on Friday, while Cloghereen Lower near Killarney National Park was set ablaze on Saturday, along with remote areas in Sneem and Templenoe.
There were several fires on Sunday, including in south Kerry and at a large bog north of Killarney, an area teeming with wildlife earlier in the day.
The Killarney National Park fire last April burned for four days. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
The return of gorse fires in Kerry has sparked fears for wildlife and a repeat of last April’s disastrous blaze in Killarney National Park which burned for days and destroyed acres of parkland.
Although good weather and the recent dry spell have made it a good time for farmers and others to burn gorse, it is illegal and an offense under section 40 of the 1976 Law on Wildlife (as amended by Section 46 of the Wildlife Act 2000) to burn, from 1 March to 31 August, vegetation growing on any uncultivated land.
A large tract of land in Currow – Kilcummin, north of Killarney, was set ablaze on Sunday. According to local man and conservationist Fred O’Sullivan, the area “was teeming with wildlife” hours earlier.
Walk in Kilcummin bog tonight. This hill teamed up with wildlife, Skylark, Reed Bunting, Stonechat, Hen Harrier, Hare, Snipe and many more yesterday. Tonight they are eliminated… pic.twitter.com/97qKzZG09S
— Fred O’Sullivan (@FredOSullivan) March 27, 2022
Fred had walked up the hill on Sunday and noticed several species of birds including the skylark; reed bunting; stone cat; Hen Harrier; and snipe. He had also observed hares.
However, “tonight they are ripped off,” he said on social media after posting dramatic footage of the hill burning.
The Wicklow Fire Service also shared footage of the horrific impact of the fires on the landscape over the weekend, its members joining forces with National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS) staff to tackle one of the perennial problems of rural Ireland.
Showing a smoldering hill on the crest of Corrig Mountain on its social media accounts, the fire department described how staff spent hours battling the blaze.
“Due to the number and density of megalithic structures, it is sometimes called the Irish Valley of the Kings. It is also an important ecological area,” he said.
All owners and managers of forests are again invited to prepare for probable outbreaks of fire, advised the Ministry of the Environment.
“Fire lines, fire plans, fire extinguishing equipment should be reviewed and prepared and other relevant contingencies such as insurance, helicopter contracts, etc., checked and confirmed.”
He urged “forest owners, farmers, rural dwellers and other users of the countryside” to be “extremely vigilant regarding fire activity, to report any suspicious or illegal activity”.