'Devastating': Firefighters tackle 'major incident' in Northern Ireland mountains

24 April 2021, 19:48 | Updated: 24 April 2021, 22:09

The blaze is one of the worst in recent years
The blaze is one of the worst in recent years. Picture: Patrick Corrigan/PA Media

By Will Taylor

"Devastating" damage has been wreaked in one of the largest gorse fires in recent years in Northern Ireland.

More than 70 firefighters spent a second day in the Mourne Mountains tackling flames on demanding terrain.

The country’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, spoke of her sadness at the impact the fire has had.

"This is devastating and tragic. The impact on wildlife and flora is unimaginable. Full support to those battling the flames," she tweeted.

The blaze started early on Friday morning, and since then Northern Ireland's Fire and Rescue Service has declared a major incident while the public has been urged to stay away.

Helicopters from the Irish Coastguard and HM Coastguard have supported the operation.

More than 70 firefighters have tackled the blaze
More than 70 firefighters have tackled the blaze. Picture: Department of Agriculture/PA

Assistant Fire Commander Aidan Jennings said this is "undoubtedly one of the most challenging gorse fires firefighters have ever had to deal with".

Fire crews have used water and foam to stop it spreading to a forest and Glen River.

"Firefighters are wearing personal protective equipment, travelling for an hour, hour-and-a-half, up the mountain, carrying equipment - you can't get water to the scene of the fire," AFC Jennings said.

"We're working with small pumps out of rivers but predominantly it is a physical, hard, beating out job up there. We use Land Rovers to get crews up as far as we can, but then it's out on foot, walking up with all of that equipment."

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He said the focus is on stop the fire's spread and not on how it started yet, but added that wildfires are "predominantly caused by human behaviour".

"I don't expect to find that this is any different," he added.

The area is a popular beauty spot
The area is a popular beauty spot. Picture: PA

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the scenes as "deeply distressing" while Northern Ireland's Environment Minister Edwin Poots said: "This should not be happening, it is a time of the year when there is a lot of dry grass about, and people need to be ultra cautious that they don't accidentally start a fire like this.

"And for those who do it deliberately - you are doing massive damage to the environment, to biodiversity and to wildlife."

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The area could take years to recover from the damage, he added.

South Down MP Chris Hazzard said: "People will have seen the shocking images, the Mournes last night looked like a range of volcanos that were erupting.

"There was shock, but also anger in the community that here we are again, another event we have to deal with. Obviously they have been dealing with Covid-19, but there was also a large flood last year and now we're going to have to pick up the pieces after the fire."