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Minister of State Killeen highlights risk of Forest Fires

Tony Killeen TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with responsibility for forestry, today warned forest owners about the risk of forest fires. Advising that the highest risk period occurs between February and June, when ground vegetation is dead and dry following winter, Minister of State Killeen added, "I would like to remind landowners of the greater danger of fire this year due to vegetation conditions following the hard winter. For this reason, landowners need to be particularly vigilant."

The areas at highest risk from wildfire tend to be located adjacent to or within moorland areas. 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. Take care with other potential sources of ignition.

2) CHECK FIRE BREAKS. Inspect Fire Breaks surrounding plantations  prior to the fire season and maintain them in an effective, vegetation free condition. Ideally Fire Breaks should be at least 6 metres wide.

3) INSURE YOUR CROP. All forest crops should be insured against losses by fire, which is one of the risks for which cover is available commercially.  Forest owners are reminded that, with effect from 1st June 2009, the Reconstitution Scheme, administered by the Department, does not cover any fire or wind damage occurring after that date.

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 to 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) REPORT LOSSES. If a plantation is destroyed or damaged by fire, the incident should be reported to the nearest Garda Station and to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Your local forestry inspector, forest manager, consultant or Teagasc advisor can advise on reinstatement measures.

Minister of State Killeen also reminded all landowners that it is an offence under the Wildlife Act to burn growing vegetation between 1 March and 31 August in any year, on any land not then cultivated, and said that if this simple rule was adhered to many costly and dangerous forest-fires would be avoided.  He underlined that, in addition, Single Payment Scheme applicants who burn vegetation within this period could have their payments reduced.

Date Released: 15 March 2010