21/05/2008

Forest Blazes Deliberate

The Fire and Rescue Service believe a series of fires in rural south Armagh last night were started deliberately.

In fact, fire fighters in Northern Ireland have said they tackled nearly 900 wildland fires in the past six weeks.

The figure was revealed as it emerged the overnight fires in Slieve Gullion Forest Park are being treated as arson.

The alarm was raised on Tuesday after four separate fires started in young trees in the County Armagh park - each destroying about an acre of land.

John Allen of the Fire and Rescue Service said the forest could have been destroyed in the blaze.

"We were very fortunate in that we received the call early and we had appliances at hand," he said.

"I would be certain in my own mind that these fires were started deliberately."

The Forestry Service raised the alarm at about 9.30pm on Tuesday.

This is not an isolated incident as the Fire and Rescue Service has already attended 880 wildland fires across Northern Ireland from 1 April - 13 May.

They urged people to be extra careful while out enjoying the countryside in the warm dry weather and to be vigilant for anyone starting fires deliberately.

Last night, four separate fires each spread to about an acre in size: "With a fire of about an acre there's obviously a financial loss to the forestry service because of the new trees, but our greatest concern is the environmental impact.

"Plus there's a real difficulty here because when the NI Fire and Rescue Service's resources are tied up, that's resources that could be available for someone else's town or village that would be used for life saving."

(BMcC)

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