By Emma Connolly
MORE than €1m has been spent by Cork County Council over the past five years tackling forest, grass, furze and bog fires.
And in the first three months of this year alone, they paid out €60,225 battling similar types of blazes.
Chief fire officer Seamus Coughlan disclosed the figures at a meeting of the local authority this week.
The figures were revealed as local fire crews fought gorse fires on Sheep’s Head and near Lough Hyne in Baltimore, and followed the recent blaze that devastated tracts of land in Gougane Barra.
Bantry’s fire chief Ian Vickery said his team had been called out to gorse fires every day this week, describing conditions in the area as ‘tinder dry’.
On Tuesday night they battled a blaze at Aughaville near Drimoleague that was heading towards six acres of forest. Fortunately, they got the fire under control but the situation was potentially a serious one.
Mr Vickery called on the public to report any sightings of fires without delay, to prevent them getting out of control, and also called on people to respect the Department of Agriculture ban on gorse burning, which is in place until August 31st.
Statistics show the number of such fires are on the increase, with the Council service attending 268 call-outs in 2016, compared to 139 in 2012.
Speaking at the Council meeting, Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) said the figures and the damage at Gougane Barra were frightening and called for helicopters to be reintroduced to identify and prosecute anyone burning gorse.
Cllr Mary Hegarty (FG) said it was a timely discussion about an issue damaging wildlife and tourism, and Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) concurred and suggested the Department of Agriculture look at its policy of fining farmers who have gorse on their lands.
‘I commend the fire brigade crew for their hard work all year round, but especially the last few weeks,’ he said. ‘Farmers are forced to do a bit of controlled burning of small patches of gorse on land due to single farm payment cuts which were introduced by our past government. They were warned this might happen. But I do believe a lot of these major fires were started by anti social behaviour and this does not include the farmer.’
Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) said: ‘We need to put up helicopters, we need to get prosecutions and there needs to be a deterrent.’