Firefighters across the Southern Area Command have battled more than 2000 gorse fires over the past three years.
Just weeks after a deliberate fire was started on Slieve Brack mountain at Forkhill, the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service has released statistics on the extent of the problem.
The majority of these fall within the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council as they relate to south Armagh and the Mournes.
In all, 2049 of the 5025 gorse fires tackled were within the Southern Command.
And the setting of deliberate fires is proving to be a major problem.
Now, with the arrival of the drier weather, NIFRS is warning of the extreme dangers and serious consequences of deliberate fire setting in the countryside.
Last year (2015/16) NIFRS attended 1,439 gorse fires across Northern Ireland, with firefighters tackling major gorse fires in Newry and Mourne and Blacks Mountain Belfast.
Although there has been a 31 per cent reduction in these types of incidents over the last three years, NIFRS is keen to see this reduce even further.
Officials are reminding everyone that dealing with these types of incidents puts not only firefighters’ lives at risk but the lives of everyone in the local community and puts additional pressure on operational resources.
Mark Smyth, Group Commander and NIFRS Lead Officer for Wild Fires, explained: “It’s reassuring that the number of gorse fires we attended last year declined however deliberate fire setting in the countryside is still very much a significant community problem for Northern Ireland.
“The current spell of dry, sunny weather combined with a long and fairly mild winter has provided a tinderbox landscape with conditions becoming ripe for gorse fires to take hold.
“We have already dealt with the first gorse fires of the year in the last number of weeks so we are appealing to the public, and young people in particular, to support their fire and rescue service by acting responsibly.
“Tackling gorse and wildland fires is extremely challenging for us. It means deploying Firefighters and equipment to remote locations. This can be for prolonged period of times with our crews working under hazardous and intense heat to bring the 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.
“It’s not just the larger fires on hillsides and mountains that impact upon resources, the smaller fires involving grass and bushes also need to be dealt with quickly as they have the potential to spread and develop into bigger fires. Attending such incidents puts additional pressure on our people and our resources.
“Alongside partner agencies and community groups, we have been working hard to address the problem of gorse fires and educate people about the dangers and consequences of deliberate fire setting – the reduction in the number of gorse fires we have attended is testament to this work.
“While the majority of gorse fires attended by NIFRS are started deliberately they can also be started unintentionally by thoughtless and careless behaviour.”
Both deliberate and accidental fires can cost lives and NIFRS is asking that the public to heed the following fire safety advice to protect themselves and the countryside.
* Extinguish cigarettes and other smoking materials properly.
* Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows.
* Only use barbecues in designated and safe areas and never leave them unattended. Keep children and ball games away from barbecues.
* Ensure that barbecues are fully extinguished and cold before disposing of their contents.
* Avoid using open fires in the countryside.
* Do not leave bottles or glass in woodlands. Sunlight shining through glass can start a fire. Take them home or put them in a waste or recycling bin.
* If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service. Don’t attempt to tackle fires that will take more than a bucket of water to put out. Leave the area as soon as possible.
* Report any suspicious behaviour to the police.