Landowners told to stop burning scrub as fire crews are needed on Covid-19 standby

April 7th, 2020 11:45 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Bantry fire fighters recently tackling one of several gorse fires that took them away from their other Covid-19 duties. (Photo: Bantry Fire Brigade)

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WEST Cork landowners have been severely criticised for burning scrub and taking fire fighting crews away from dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

The County Fire Service has called on landowners to immediately ‘stop burning’ after it was confirmed that crews from each of West Cork’s five fire stations were busy over the weekend tackling gorse fires.

Since last Thursday, March 26th, Bantry, Castletownbere, Schull, Skibbereen and Dunmanway stations have been tasked with fighting gorse and other outdoor fires, some of which were so serious they necessitated multiple brigades.

Clare Heardman, a conservation ranger with the national parks and wildlife service, said it is ‘completely illegal to burn at this time of year.’

She added: ‘It makes me angry that it’s happening when the emergency services have so much other work to do.’

The ranger pleaded with landowners to ‘support our emergency services and not light fires’ because they cannot do that and deal with the coronavirus pandemic at the same time.

‘Fire fighters, in the normal course of their duty, put their lives at risk, but, during the Covid-19 crisis, they are unlikely to be able to maintain physical distance and are, as a result, facing additional risks,’ she said.

The ranger welcomed a strongly-worded statement issued by the Agriculture Minister, Michael Creed TD, who warned that landowners, engaged in such activity – which is illegal between March 1st and August 31st – could have their payments cut, and penalties imposed.

In an equally hard-line stance, a spokesperson for the County Fire Service issued a statement saying: ‘Communications centres will not accept caller details and details of controlled burn at this time’ and advised ‘anyone living in areas that are prone to gorse fires to remove gorse and dead vegetation from around buildings, oil tanks, fences, forestry and poles in order to reduce their risk of losses due to any potential gorse fires that may occur.’

Bantry station officer Ian Vickery set out the timeline for some of the calls they have had to deal with.

He said Bantry was out with the Schull crew on Thursday, March 26th at a gorse fire at Colomane, near Bantry.

Bantry, together with crews from Skibbereen and Dunmanway, was also out at 6.30am on Saturday morning at Ballybawn, between Bantry and Skibbereen, where a substantial fire, threatened forestry.

On that shout, they not only saw the sun come up, they worked through to lunchtime but had the presence of mind to ring ahead to O’Keeffe’s SuperValu in Bantry and placed an order.

Ian said: ‘We ordered 35 breakfast rolls for 28 very hungry firefighters, and they were devoured in seconds!’

Bantry went out again at 8pm on Sunday, when they went to Adrigole to assist Castletownbere fire crews with another gorse fire. In that situation, Ian confirmed: ‘There was a significant line of fire threatening houses and forestry.’

However, in the middle of all that, the Bantry crews were called away to yet another hill fire in Glengarriff.

The station officer confirmed that it took them between 9.30am and 3am on Monday morning to protect nearby residential properties. He explained the fire was high on a hill and was fairly inaccessible, which made it all the more challenging.

On behalf of West Cork fire fighters, the Bantry station officer issued his own appeal to landowners saying: ‘We would ask you not to light fires because it will slow down our response in terms of assisting the ambulance service.’

Before going to press, the station officer confirmed that there were four additional calls between 10pm on Monday night and 4am on Tuesday morning dealing with fires at Cousane, near Bantry urban area, Cappabue and both side of the hill in Durrus.

‘To be fair to members of the public they are being very vigilant and ringing it in and the gardaí are being very proactive in following it up – and that’s very commendable,’ said Ian.

In Castletownbere, the 10-man crew were called out five times to deal with fires between Saturday and 2am on Tuesday morning – all of which were described as ‘substantial.’

Locally, the fire in Leitrim Beg in Adrigole on Sunday was described as the most serious because it had actually started to burn a forestry plantation – resulting in the lost of three of four trees. ‘It was lucky,’ a local man said, ‘that we were able to contain it.’

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