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Opinion: Lessons must be learned from Mournes blaze

Firefighters tackle the Mourne Mountains blaze. Picture by Pacemaker
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After three days of massive effort by the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and other agencies the huge gorse fires on the Mourne Mountains appeared to be under control last night.

A statement from the NIFRS said it was de-escalating the severity of the blaze from midday Sunday, attending to hot spots that might break out and hopefully reporting the emergency as over last night. But a spokesman described the situation at its height as “undoubtedly one of the most challenging gorse fires firefighters have ever had to deal with”.

At its most intense a range of agencies and organisations including the police, Coastguard, Mourne Rescue Team, Forestry Service, National Trust, and Sky Watch Patrol as well as Coastguard helicopters from Ireland and parts of Britain, combined to help the NIFRS get to grips with the blaze.

As with the reaction of people providing food and refreshments for those fighting the fire, such co-operation is encouraging and to be applauded in this instance but it is not something which anyone wants to see having to be mobilised again.

Now begins the task of estimating just how much damage has been done to the flora and fauna of the area and of course to the property of the people who live there, many of whom are farmers.

Heather McLachlan, the National Trust’s regional director for Northern Ireland described the scenes of devastation as like looking at a lunar landscape. She anticipated a huge task in helping the land recover and said the trust would be taking advice from those affected by similar disasters.

Just as important as working out the impact of the fire, is attempting to discover how it started, reportedly in the early hours of Friday. If the cause is discovered it could provide important lessons on how to avoid such events in the future.

The Mourne Mountains is one of the most celebrated scenic areas in Ireland.

It has been made famous in song and is visited by countless numbers of people from home and abroad every year. It is therefore a significant source of income and as such must be protected and preserved.

There can be few people who live here who have not enjoyed the majestic beauty of the area.

We must all make sure we take every precaution in future visits to the Mournes and similar areas to reduce the possibility of the same thing happening again.

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