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Minister Wallace issues early warning about the risk of forest fire

Following a number of forest fires recently Ms Mary Wallace T.D., Minister of State, with responsibility for Forestry at the Department of Agriculture and Food, warned forest owners today about the risk which fire presents to their plantations. Every spring in Ireland several hundred hectares of forests and woodland are destroyed by fire. This year there have already been a number of forest fires due to the dry weather and the Minister is anxious to draw the attention of forest owners and the public in general to this very real and immediate risk. Fire poses a serious financial threat to forest owners in risk areas. She added that forest owners have a duty to make themselves aware of these threats and take appropriate actions to secure the safety of their forest investments. However, the Minister also reminded all land-owners that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn vegetation between 1 March and 31 August any year, and said that if this simple rule was adhered to many costly and dangerous forest-fires would be avoided.

The Minister pointed out that the highest risk period occurs between February and June, when ground vegetation is dead and dry following winter. The areas at highest risk from wildfire tend to be located adjacent to, or within moorland areas. Prolonged 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. It is a criminal offence (Wildlife Act, 1976 (Amendment, 2000). 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 6m wide.

3) INSURE YOUR CROP. All forest crops should be insured against losses by fire. While the Department does provide grants for reconstitution of plantations damaged due to natural causes, there are many demands on this funding and fire is one of the risks for which cover is available commercially. In addition, basic reconstitution of the crop can never compensate for lost growth increment and the prudent forest-owner will want to insure against this risk as well.

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 with 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) OFFENCE. Remember, it is prohibited to cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy any vegetation growing on any land not then cultivated between 1st day of March and 31st day of August in any year.

8) 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.

The Minister urged forest owners to be prepared, be vigilant, and help stamp out forest fires.

3 March, 2006

Date Released: 03 March 2006