First gorse fires of the year spark NIFRS Gorse Fire Appeal

NORTHERN Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) is warning people to think about the consequences of deliberate fire setting in the countryside and mountains.

The appeal comes as NIFRS receives 548 emergency calls relating to gorse fires in the first seven days of April alone resulting in Firefighters responding to 387 gorse fires.

Over the past 3 years, NIFRS has seen a 75% decrease in the number of gorse fires attended by Fire Crews. While this reduction is encouraging, NIFRS warns there is no room for complacency and with the upsurge in gorse fire related call outs last week is appealing for people, especially young people, to be aware of the very serious consequences that deliberate fire setting in the countryside can have on the whole community.

Dale Ashford, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said:

“Ironically, as snow still lies on some hillside areas across Northern Ireland, our Firefighters have been battling the first gorse fires of the year in other parts of the province. Last week alone our Regional Control Centre handled 548 emergency calls from across Northern Ireland, to deal with whins, gorse, hedges and grass on fire and Fire Crews attended 387 gorse fire related incidents. While the majority of these incidents were small and quickly dealt with, a number of these incidents required extra Firefighters and resources to bring the gorse fires under control.

“As the drier weather takes hold and we begin to see signs of spring, I’m asking the public a simple question - where do you want your Fire & Rescue Service over the coming months? In remote areas 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?

“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 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 potentially life threatening emergency incidents in the local community. We have contingency plans in place to ensure continued emergency cover for towns and villages across Northern Ireland.

“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.

“In the last 3 years there has been a 75% decrease in the number of gorse fires we have attended. However, we are mindful that the reduction comes despite Fire Crews having to battle almost 2,000 gorse fires right across Northern Ireland during the 2011 Easter period resulting in Sunday 1 May being the busiest day on record for NIFRS. We don’t want a repeat of this and with the first gorse fires of the year already having been dealt with by Fire Crews we are appealing to the public and young people in particular to support their fire and rescue service by acting responsibly. “Alongside partner agencies and community groups, we have been working hard to address the problem of gorse fires and educate people about the dangers and consequences of deliberate fire setting - the reduction in the number of gorse fires we have attended is testament to this work.

“As a fire and rescue service we are well rehearsed and well prepared to protect our community during spate gorse fire incidents. Recently we held a major emergency multi-agency wildland fire training exercise to test our operational response, procedures and resilience to these types of incidents to help enhance our capability in protecting our community during spate conditions.

“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.