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Gorse fires cause €4 million damage

Wednesday, 17th May, 2017 1:01am

An estimated €4 million worth of damage has been caused by the gorse fires that raged across Cloosh Valley close to Oughterard last week.

Coillte has confirmed that over 2,500 hectares were lost in the fires - 1,500 hectares of forestry and 1,000 hectares of bogland.

Fire crews worked around the clock for six days to get the blaze under control, with Coillte also calling in the Air Corps and the army.

Andrew Doyle, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with responsibility for forestry, visited the site at Cloosh Valley on Monday.

“I am appalled at the devastation here caused by last week’s wildfire,” he said. “Two weeks ago, this was a green, vibrant forest environment but it is now totally destroyed.”

He added that fire poses a serious risk to life, homes, and property. “Forestry and wildlife habitats are also destroyed as is particularly evident here today. I understand that, while a wildfire risk can quickly develop following dry weather patterns in all areas where flammable vegetation such as grasses, gorse and heather are present, especially in proximity to forests and other assets.”

Started deliberately

“Most fires may have been started deliberately. To set a fire at this time of the year is not only illegal but also totally irresponsible.”

During his visit, Minister of State Doyle thanked all those who were involved in the fire fighting and control efforts, including Coillte and its staff, the Galway Fire Services, the Air Corps, An Garda Síochána and all of the volunteers.

He added, “Such fires can cause enormous damage and result in huge costs – including loss of property, in the case of forests there is the loss of the crop and the reconstitution costs, and there are also the costs incurred in fighting fires.”

It is also impossible to quantify the cost of disruption to normal emergency services - including Garda Síochán - operations, and the impact of diverting these vital services away from other serious emergency calls, he said.

“Deliberate or uncontrolled fires also destroy habitats, wildlife, farm land, farm structures and threaten homes and lives. It behoves us all to act responsibly. I urge all forest owners, farmers, rural dwellers and other countryside users to be vigilant to the threat of fire, to report any suspicious activity to An Garda Síochána, and to report any uncontrolled or unattended fires immediately to the Fire and Emergency Services.”

Act within the law

Meanwhile, Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources Seán Kyne has said that a review of the enforcement of wildlife legislation is needed given the unprecedented gorse fires which have raged in Connemara and across many parts of the country.

“The fire at Cloosh Valley, in particular, is one of the most serious and largest ever to occur in Ireland. Thousands of acres of forestry and bogland have been destroyed with terrible consequences for wildlife. Of even greater concern are the many homes, businesses and communities that have been put at serious risk.”

He paid tribute to everyone who battled the blaze last week and added, “There are genuine and legitimate reasons for managing gorse and scrub such as when such materials pose a threat to homes or property. However, removal must be undertaken in a safe, controlled and monitored way.”

He said, “Given the destruction to wildlife and the unprecedented danger to homes, businesses and communities I think the existing legislation and, in particular, its enforcement needs to be reviewed.”

In the past decade, there have been just 11 prosecutions taken under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act, which relates to burning vegetation between 1 March and 31 August.

The State has imposed a total of €2,250 in fines for unauthorised fires in the past decade; the average fine has been about €200.

It is now proposed to increase the maximum fine for a first offence for illegal burning from €1,000 to €5,000.

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