wildfireAn area nearly half the size of County Louth has been destroyed in the Republic of Ireland in the first four months of 2013, the Irish Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) has revealed.

Gorse and forest fires have destroyed about 42,000 hectares, with one incident at Ballcroy, County Mayo accounting for 2,800 hectares over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Most of the fires were started deliberately or maliciously after February 28, which marks the end of the period where landowners can legally burn growing vegetation.

Speaking in Cork today, CFOA chairman and County Mayo CFO, Seamus Murphy, said: “The starting of fires maliciously and deliberately by landowners to clear vegetation outside of the late February deadline is illegal and reckless as it not only puts life and property at risk and causes immense damage to wildlife and the environment, but it also diverts critical Fire Services resources away from responding to other emergency incidents.

“While the weather at present is not conducive to large forest, bog and gorse fires, we would like to remind landowners that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn growing vegetation between  1 March and 31 August in any year, on any land not then cultivated. The sad fact is that if this simple rule was adhered to, many costly and dangerous wildfires would be avoided.”

Mr Murphy was speaking at the start of the ICOA’s two-day annual conference. Other topics being discussed include the emerging role of social media in major emergency management and learning from New York’s emergency response to Superstorm Sandy.