The fire which wreaked devastation on the Mournes causing untold damage and destroying wildlife was started deliberately, it has been confirmed.
The three-day operation saw crews tackle a blaze spanning an area of three-and-a-half kilometres.
The operation, which began in the early hours of Friday morning, was formally completed at 4.50pm on Sunday.
The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service confirmed this afternoon (Monday) that it was believed to be as a result of deliberate ignition.
On Saturday, NIFRS declared it a major incident.
At its height over 100 firefighters, 12 appliances from stations across Northern Ireland, three 4×4 vehicles, the Specialist Rescue Team and a Command Support Unit were all mobilised to the scene of the huge wildfire.
Firefighters used beaters, jets and specialist 4×4’s to extinguish the fire.
The incident also saw the use of Coastguard helicopters to achieve an aerial view of the fire, inform tactical firefighting decisions and transport firefighters to remote locations to tackle the fire.
Over the course of the incident NIFRS received support from partner agencies including: HM Coastguard, The Irish Coastguard, Mourne Mountain Rescue, Mourne Heritage Trust, The National Trust, Newry Mourne and Down District Council, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), British Red Cross Fire & Emergency Support Services (FESS), Skywatch NI, Southern Emergency Planning Group, PSNI, Police Search and Rescue and the Forestry Service.
Chief Fire & Rescue Officer Michael Graham said: “Calling an incident like this challenging doesn’t do justice to the effort our Firefighters have put in over this weekend.
“The pictures we’ve seen on social media have shown us how hard they worked in intense conditions to extinguish this huge fire and prevent it spreading to threaten human life or property.
“While I am proud of the work our people did, we are all saddened by the destruction this fire has caused to our natural environment.
“I want to also pay tribute to those who weren’t on the mountain but who were crucial to the success of our operations. Our Regional Control Centre played a crucial role in coordinating our response and making sure we continued to protect our whole community while dealing with this incident along with many support employees working diligently behind the scenes.
“I also want to thank all of our firefighters who weren’t directly involved in this incident for the work they’ve continued to do all weekend in responding to the almost 400 other incidents we’ve attended over this period. Thanks to their hard work we have continued to protect our community, while dealing with a major incident without missing a beat.
“This was a truly multi-agency incident. I want to thank our colleagues in the Department of Health and Minister Robin Swann for their support this weekend.
“We work closely with our partner agencies on a daily basis preparing for an incident like this. That hard work paid off over this weekend as we were able to quickly and effectively work together. We could not have done the work we did without their help.
“Finally thank you to our whole community for their support. I speak for every single firefighter and every single NIFRS employee when I say that we have been blown away by the outpouring of support we have seen.
“We have simply lost track of the number of people who contacted us offering anything they could to help us. We are proud to be an important part of such a generous and kind community.
“For everyone out there who watched the fire this weekend with horror, there is one thing we ask of you – help us prevent these fires starting in the first place. Don’t start fires in the countryside. Don’t be careless with smoking materials or glass. Don’t be careless with barbeques or any other flames.
“When the people of Northern Ireland need us we are there, trained and ready to deal with incidents like this but the responsibility of preventing wildfires belongs to all of us. We are all safer when we work together.”
NIFRS is reminding everyone of the following safety advice:
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.