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FIRES WREAK HAVOC

Thursday, 11 May 2017

FIRES WREAK HAVOC thumbnailFirefighters from Dromore bravely battle the flames and smoke at Mullaghfad mountain

FIREFIGHTERS have been working at full stretch dealing with a spate of mainly deliberately-set gorse fires across the district's countryside in recent days, with a huge inferno near Fivemiletown still raging yesterday (Tuesday).
Ignition of the fire in the Mullaghfad Mountain area is believed to have been deliberate. Yesterday afternoon the PSNI confirmed that a 55-year-old man had been arrested and questioned by police investigating gorse fires in that area. He was subsequently released on bail pending further enquiries.
At the time of going to press, efforts were continuing to quell the blaze. Dozens of firefighters have been at the scene since the fire broke out on Sunday in an area which has designated EU protection due to the breeding of hen harrier.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) has warned that the service's resources are being put under extreme pressure as it deals with such incidents.
Latest statistics reveal that since Monday, May 1, firefighters attended 511 gorse fires across the province, around 80 percent (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 over the last week.


Castlederg Fire Station dealt with five gorse fires in their station area, Clogher dealt with nine, Dromore crews were called to eight, Fintona dealt with 10 gorse fire incidents, Irvinestown attended six gorse fires and Newtownstewart dealt with three fires, all of which were ignited deliberately.
Firefighters from Omagh Fire Station attended five gorse fire incidents within their station area, four of which were ignited deliberately, Pomeroy dealt with seven incidents, six of which were deliberate and Strabane dealt with 19 deliberate incidents.
On Wednesday last, a gorse fire - which is believed to have started accidentally - took hold on land just off the Donaghanie Road, Beragh.
Major blaze
A short-time later a team of firefighters were tasked to a major blaze on the Kirlish Road between Drumquin and Castlederg where 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 gorse fire burning near to a stretch of forest.
UUP councillor and deputy chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Bert Wilson, has warned the 'irresponsible' individuals behind the incidents that they are destroying areas of natural beauty, wildlife habitats and causing a significant risk to the public.
"I would issue a warning to those responsible. Especially with the ground being so dry and with any bit of breeze, fire can move so swiftly and anyone could be caught up in it. It could end up in a fatality," he said.
He continued: "Deliberate setting of fires must stop now, especially at a time when the birds are nesting because their nests and eggs will be destroyed.
"These are areas of natural beauty and in quite a few cases, the forestry department and even private companies have gone to the bother of planting trees and that's a serious loss. Those trees could be anything from two or three-years-old to 10-years-old and once the fire scorches them, they are of no benefit to anyone and they will take years to replace as well.
"If anyone sees anyone suspicious they should be passing it on to the PSNI. It's something that we don't want or need. The people responsible don't have much regard for their community or anything for that matter."
Concern
Westminster election Green Party candidate, Ciaran McClean, said the deliberate setting of fires is a major cause for concern. Speaking out to condemn those responsible, he said: "I would condemn the deliberate starting of fires in the grandest possible terms.
"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!
"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 firefighters' 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."
Elsewhere, NIFRS assistant group commander in Omagh, Eamon McGrath, appealed to members of the public to remain vigilant and urged them to leave the area as soon as possible if they notice a fire.
"We are appealing to everyone within the community to remain vigilant when in the countryside. If you see a fire report it immediately to the Fire and Rescue Service. Don't attempt to tackle fires and leave the area as soon as possible.
"Deliberate fire setting has major consequences - it ties up our vital resources from other more serious incidents and potentially puts people and property at risk. These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment. If anyone has any information in relation to fire setting we would urge them to contact the PSNI. I would like to thank our crews who have worked under extremely hazardous conditions and intense heat to bring the fires under control," he said.

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