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11 March 2009: Minister of State Killeen warns of the dangers of forest fires

Tony Killeen T.D., Minister for Fisheries and Forestry, today warned forest owners about the risk of forest fires. Every spring in Ireland, several hundred hectares of forests and woodland are destroyed by fire. Current weather conditions indicate an increased risk of forest fires and the Minister of State wishes to draw the attention of forest owners and the public in general to this very real and immediate risk.

Minister of State Killeen advised that the highest risk period occurs between February and June, when ground vegetation is dead and dry following winter. For this reason the danger can be extremely high even when it has rained recently.

The areas at highest risk from wildfire tend to be located adjacent to or within moorland areas. Dry periods and seasonal high winds in spring help create ideal conditions for wildfire to spread quickly through highly flammable moorland vegetation. Woodland located in the path of such fires can very easily be destroyed and young forest crops are particularly at risk of fire, given the small size of trees and their proximity to flammable ground vegetation.

In general, woodland located within improved pasture and grassland is at very low risk of fire occurrence, due to the type of vegetation involved, but for other types of land there are some simple, cost effective steps that forest owners can take to reduce the risk of fire damage to plantations. These steps include:

1) DO NOT LIGHT FIRES IN OR NEAR WOODLAND. Take care with other potential sources of ignition.

2) CHECK FIRE BREAKS. It is the owners' responsibility to ensure that Fire Breaks surrounding plantations are inspected annually prior to the fire season and maintained in an effective, vegetation free condition. Ideally Fire Breaks should be at least 6 metres wide.

3) INSURE YOUR CROP. All forest crops should be insured against losses by fire, which is one of the risks for which cover is available commercially.

4) PLAN AHEAD. Fire Plans should be developed for all plantations, including a map showing access and assembly points for fire fighting personnel and equipment and potential sources of water. The plan should also include contact details for the emergency services, relevant forest management organisations, neighbouring landowners and forest owners in order to summon help should the need arise. Have fire-fighting tools such as beaters and knapsack sprayers to hand and ready to use.

5) DISCUSS WITH NEIGHBOURS. Cooperation between neighbouring landowners is vital to successful fire prevention. Explain your concerns regarding fire risk to neighbouring landowners. Owners of adjoining and neighbouring plantations should develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for guarding against fire.

6) BE VIGILANT. Forest Owners should be particularly vigilant following prolonged dry spells. A period of 24 hours is sufficient to dry out dead moorland vegetation following rain, where windy conditions exist. Where dry conditions persist, experience suggests that forest owners should be particularly vigilant at weekends, and at evening times, when land burning is most likely to take place. If fire is detected, do not delay, summon help immediately and activate fire plan. Do not rely on others to call the Fire Service, and remember that a rapid response by the emergency services is essential if damage to property is to be minimised.

7) REPORT LOSSES. If a plantation is destroyed or damaged by fire, the incident should be reported to the nearest Garda Station and to the Forest Service. Your local forestry inspector, forest manager, consultant or Teagasc advisor can advise on reinstatement measures.

Minister of State Killeen also reminded all landowners that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn vegetation between 1 March and 31 August in any year, on any land not then cultivated, and said that if this simple rule was adhered to many costly and dangerous forest-fires would be avoided.

11 March, 2009

Date Released: 13 March 2009