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Firefighters at full stretch as gorse fires rage across the district

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Firefighters at full stretch as gorse  fires rage across the district thumbnailA gorse fire rages near the Kirlish Road, between Drumquin and Castlederg. (Pics: Declan Burke). SU1920NM

FIREFIGHTERS in Strabane have dealt with almost 20 deliberately-set gorse fires over recent days, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has revealed.
Crews from the local station have been despatched to deal with 19 blazes since Monday of last week.
NIFRS has warned that firefighters have been working at full stretch in dealing with a spate of fires right across Northern Ireland adding that the service's resources are being put under extreme pressure as a consequence.
Latest statistics reveal that since Monday, May 1, firefighters attended 511 gorse fires across the province, around 80 per-cent (466) of which were started deliberately.
The Western Command Area - which takes in the Omagh and Strabane areas as well as parts of Fermanagh - has been one of the busiest with firefighters tasked to a total of 162 incidents.
As well as the Strabane station, crews in Castlederg and Newtownstewart areas have been equally as busy.
Castlederg Fire Station dealt with five gorse fires in their station area and Newtownstewart has dealt with three fires, all of which were ignited deliberately, NIFRS said.
One of the largest of those was in the Castlederg area last Wednesday when firefighters were tasked to a major blaze on the Kirlish Road which lies between the town and Drumquin. In this incident, it is believed that both gorse and bushes were alight.
And, on Thursday last, NIFRS personnel were called back out to the Drumquin area to extinguish a large gorse fire burning near to a stretch of forest.
The service has warned about the extreme dangers and serious consequences of deliberate fire setting in the countryside. It has also reminded everyone that dealing with these types of incidents puts not only firefighters' lives at risk but the lives of everyone in the local community and puts additional pressure on operational resources. 
Area Commander, Maurice Rafferty explained: "Tackling gorse and wildland fires is extremely challenging for us.
‘Serious risk'
"It means deploying firefighters and equipment to remote locations. This can be for prolonged periods of time with our crews working under hazardous and intense heat to bring the 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 and bushes also need to be dealt with quickly as they have the potential to spread and develop into bigger fires. Attending such incidents puts additional pressure on our people and our resources.  
"We are appealing to everyone within the local community to be aware of the dangers and consequences of deliberate fire setting. It ties up our vital resources from other more serious incidents and potentially puts people and property at risk.
Meanwhile, Westminster Green Party candidate, Ciaran McClean, said the deliberate setting of fires is a major cause for concern.
"These actions are crimes against the community and the environment and I would encourage anyone with any information on these arsonists starting fires to please bring it to the PSNI. Someone could lose their life, it can't go on like this, it is playing with fire really," he said.
"It should be apparent to everyone that the amount of wildlife that live within these gorse areas is immense and they are protected under very strong laws in this country. It's a really serious crime. The Habitat Directive is a powerful piece of legislation and for anyone to think that they can flout this law, they won't just be dealing with the PSNI if they are brought to book on this. It's very serious.
"It's also the budgetary aspect of it. If the firefighter's resources are being used, that's a big budgetary pressure. The other point is if a house fire starts with elderly people or children involved, the consequences could be tragic if firefighters are at a gorse fire." .

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