THE COOKSTOWN area has seen a severe rise in the number of gorse fires in recent weeks - with crews attending almost 40 separate incidents in the past two weeks.
According to the Fire Service, the vast majority of gorse fire were started deliberately, though the increase in numbers have also been blamed on the recent dry spell.
Between March 20-27, Cookstown’s fire crew was called to 27 incidents while last week there was a drop in the number of call outs with 12 reports of gorse fires.
District Commander for Cookstown Warren Kerr said those who deliberately start gorse fire were putting lives at risk.
He told the MID: “The community of Cookstown needs to decide where they want their Fire & Rescue Service - up mountains tackling deliberately set fires or at their local Fire Station ready to deal with life threatening emergencies and protecting our community.
“When individuals decide to deliberately go out into our countryside or up our mountains to start fires deliberately they are putting not only Firefighters lives at risk but also everyone in the local community.
“Tackling Gorse and Wildland Fires present extreme challenges for us as an emergency service.
“It means deploying Firefighters and their equipment, to usually quite remote locations, often for prolonged period of times, working under hazardous and intense heat to bring these fires under control.
“These fires can easily spread and even a slight change in wind direction can pose a serious risk to life, property and the environment.
“Gorse fires put extra pressure on Cookstown’s resources. We cannot be in two places at once and fighting gorse fires mean that Fire Appliances are taken away from other duties and are unable to respond if another emergency call comes in.
“We have to put contingency plans place to ensure continued cover for towns and villages across Northern Ireland in order to maintain emergency cover but this may result in a slight delay when responding.
“Gorse fires can also be caused unintentionally by thoughtless and careless behaviour.
“We want people to enjoy the countryside in the coming dry months and over school holidays but we would appeal for them to take care and not to be complacent.”
Mid Ulster DUP Assembly candidate, Ian McCrea said that people who start gorse fires for fun could cost someone’s life.
The DUP man said: “Most of these gorse fires are the deliberate actions of people who are out to start fires for whatever reason.
“Obviously the impact it could have on areas where it’s dry could be devastating, especially when the wind starts blowing and it moves to other areas. The consequences it could have if it spreads to built up areas could be tragic.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) have launched a Gorse Fire Appeal to tackle the ongoing problem and have issued guidance to prevent the occurrence of gorse fires:
NIFRS launched a new TV advertisement last week to highlight this important community fire safety message – deliberate fire setting in the countryside costs lives.