Northern Ireland news

Wildfire in Co Down 'started deliberately', police say

Gorse fires blazing behind Bonny's Caravan Park. Picture by Emma Marley
Mairead Holland

A WILDFIRE in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains was likely to have been started deliberately, police have said.

Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from a caravan park on Easter Sunday night after the blaze, which spread for a mile, took hold in nearby Donard Forest.

Holidaymakers at Bonny's Caravan Park were asked to leave as a precaution, with many taken to a council leisure centre, church and a hostel.

Dramatic images taken from the scene show how close the fire was to the caravan park.

Residents of Tullybrannigan Road were also forced to leave their homes.

Around 55 firefighters in eight appliances, including a water tanker, tackled the wildfire which was fanned by strong winds.

Manager Emlyn Williamson said most of the 450 caravans on its site were occupied on what is traditionally its busiest holiday weekend of the year.

"The caravan park is about 100 metres from where the fire started so we had a clear view of it," he said.

"The worry was that we didn't know what way the flames were going to go. We had plenty of help from police to evacuate the site, so there was no panic.

"Ulsterbus also ran some buses to take people to alternative accommodation. Some people just drove home and came back on Monday".

Mr Williamson, who has managed the site for 20 years, said there had been fires in the area before but this was the first time the site had to be evacuated.

The fire blazes close to caravans at Bonny's Caravan Park

Last night, police said initial investigations had determined the blaze was "started deliberately".

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Will Tate said: "The fire caused widespread damage and led to a number of evacuations, including from a nearby caravan park.

"Our colleagues in the NIFRS have now determined that it is likely that the fire was started deliberately and I am appealing to people to assist us in our investigation."

Dermot McPoland, NIFRS group commander, said crews were still at the scene until yesterday lunchtime damping down any areas of heat.

"The fire started at Donard Forest and made its way towards Tollymore Forest but didn't get into Tollymore," he said.

"The vegetation and grass were very dry and it was very arduous and punishing for the firefighters. They used water and were beating the fire out as well."

Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard said: "Efforts will now be under way to determine the cause of the blaze and I’d like to remind everyone to behave responsibly while using the forest park in order to protect the environment and everyone’s safety".

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