FIRES being ignited on Mount Leinster to burn off heather could potentially put firefighters’ lives at risk. That was a viewpoint of Carlow Fire Services, as a substantial amount of gorse and heather was burnt off in uncontrolled fires recently.
Units from both Carlow and Wexford Fire Services were called out to several locations in the Blackstairs Mountains. Two units from Bagenalstown, along with units from Bunclody and Graignamanagh, attended the fires.
It’s expected that the fire services will be called out to similar fires in the coming weeks. Heather is burned to promote grazing for sheep, but this can only be done legally between 31 August and 1 March.
“It carries a significant amount of risk,” said senior assistant chief fire officer Alan O’Neill. “You have risk to drivers in the area, pollution and toxicity. You have wildlife being endangered. If the fire also gets to the forestry, and firefighters cannot control it, their lives are also being put at risk.”
Carlow IFA chairman Derek Deane said the existing period for burning was not sufficient for farmers.
“The heather burning lets the grass come up for both flora and fauna,” he said. “There will always be concerns but you have to be practical. The burning of heather in the mountains is always going on in a number of mountain ranges.”
Mr Deane described many of the environmental concerns raised as “unfounded”.
“A lot of the concerns raised have been unfounded and it has been shown the mountains have to be managed.”
A spokesperson for the National Parks and Wildlife Service said farmers could be hit in the pocket if found to have started the fires.
“Farmers would be putting their Single Farm Payment in jeopardy, if convicted. To qualify for the Single Farm Payment, farmers have to be seen farming in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way,” the spokesman added.