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Gorse and forest fires - the burning question

THE issue of burning gorse and dried vegetation, a practice which is illegal at this time of year, has raised its head this week with the Department of Agriculture issuing a Status Orange fire-risk warning.
In a week when Fire and Rescue Services have battled such fires across the country many still pose the question: who is responsible for these outbreaks?
The practice of burning gorse has been defended by farmers generally while conservationists have decried the practice as unnecessarily extreme.
Because the gorse plant is difficult to uproot and clear farmers sometimes burn the land so it can be cleansed and used again. In particular, it is regarded as good management practice by hill farmers – the burning allowing the regeneration of mountain land.
Conservations would contend that manually cutting and clearing of gorse at the appropriate time is best practice. They point to the fact the fires threaten wildlife and many areas across the country. Many animals are unable to escape from fire and will be burned. Birds can fly away but the nests and eggs that are left behind are destroyed. There’s long-lasting damage after a gorse fire has occurred; the earth is scorched as well as the impact on wildlife.
Farmers also contend that some hills have become overgrown and fires are not necessarily due to farmers burning but tourists and hill-walkers (recreational users) who could be inadvertently lighting fires.
While most farmers take a responsible attitude towards burning the most disturbing aspect of this, however, is the fact many of the fires are started deliberately by vandals who take advantage of the hot and sunny weather when the grass and undergrowth is particularly dry. They know that fire travels through gorse and dry undergrowth at an astounding pace.
In remote areas in particular, such fires can take place alongside, or each side of narrow roads, creating a frightening experience for motorists.
Whatever the reasons, we encourage people to take precautions and prevent unnecessary fire during these dry periods. Avoid carelessly dropping cigarettes, losing control of barbeques and bonfires and leaving rubbish in areas. Smokers, in particular, are advised to dispose of cigarettes and other smoking materials and ensure they are fully extinguished. On most lands it is actually illegal to light any fire, including barbeques, without permission of the landowners.
In response to the current situation, in a statement to North West Express, Mayo IFA Rural Development Committee Chairman, Michael Biggins, has said landowners need to be on alert after the Department of Agriculture’s warning, the third highest of four warning levels. This will remain in place until the end of this week.
 “Farmers need to familiarise themselves with their fire prevention plans and be prepared for fire outbreaks on or around their property,” Michael Biggins advised.  
 “Land with dead grasses and low moisture shrub fuels like gorse and heather is particularly susceptible. It is everyone’s responsibility to exercise extreme caution if they are out in areas of bog land or forestry. A small thing like a discarded cigarette or a barbecue can get out of control very quickly and take on a life of its own”.  If you see a fire, call the Fire and Rescue Services via 112 and report the fire and its location.