04/05/2011

Approaching Rain To Ease Gorse Fires

The holiday weekend has proved to be a testing time for firefighters across the entire north of Ireland - with a coming change in the weather expected to help end multiple heath fires that saw firemen battling high winds and dry, warm weather for several days.

They said that Sunday was the busiest day in the history of NI's fire service as it battled raging gorse fires across five counties.

Last night they spent another night battling continuing gorse fires having dealt with 31 fires on Tuesday evening already.

Across the border, the Irish army drafted 45 troops and three helicopters into west Donegal to help fire crews battle flames spreading across Muckish Mountain, near Falcarragh.

Thousands of acres have been destroyed by fires in Donegal, Leitrim, Laois, Offaly, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Monaghan, Cavan, Longford, Westmeath, Meath, Sligo and Louth.

While most of the blazes had been doused or brought under control on Tuesday, a blaze at Greenan Road, Ballycastle, which has destroyed many acres and was being sustained by high winds continued and, at one point, 60 out of 68 fire stations were involved in fighting blazes as the Mournes, Ballycastle, Gortin in Tyrone and Rostrevor in Co Down, were badly affected.

The PSNI said on Tuesday that members of the public throughout the Province should be aware of their own safety.
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The police said fires were raging in the Clogher Valley, Annalong valley, near Ballycastle, in south Armagh and south Down as well as Omagh, Creggan and Gortin.

A statement said: "The fires are unpredictable and spring up quickly.

"Due to the high winds they can travel at rates of one metre per second," noting that firefighters had been hampered by queues of cars wanting to 'sight see'.

Yesterday, they were asking motorists to stay away from these areas as a matter of their own safety.

It has also emerged that many fires were the result of arson after police apprehended two youths aged 10 and 15 on suspicion of arson in the Aghnagar Road area of Sixmilecross on Monday. The matter is being investigated and a file will be prepared for the Public Prosecution Service in due course, police said.

They also said they were following up reports that a man with a petrol can was seen in the Rostrevor area on Saturday evening and that two youths were spotted lighting fires on Slieve Gullion mountain on Sunday night.

"The thought that individuals may be deliberately causing such destruction is very hard to comprehend," said Assistant Chief Constable, Gary White.

"Not only are they putting livestock in danger, and destroying the habitat of wildlife but as seen in the necessary evacuations in Annalong and the Lenamore Road in Omagh homes and therefore the lives of residents are being threatened."

Although many fires have been brought under control, conditions remain dangerous for the potential for further fires before an expected break in the sunny weather tonight.

(BMcC/GK)

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