Arsonists light hundreds of fires in Northern Ireland

Arsonists light hundreds of fires in Northern Ireland

03 May 2011

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Ireland — A mad rash of arson in Northern Ireland has left firefighters battling more than 1,100 brush fires in the past two weeks — an extraordinary 97 percent of which were deliberately lit.

The fires have made one of Northern Ireland’s most spectacular landscapes, the Mourne Mountains, off-limits to tourists as 40-foot flames engulfed the region. The spate of deliberately lit fires comes in the middle of warm weather, just as the high tourist season was kicking off.

Hundreds of acres of land were destroyed, and homes and livestock threatened by fires that burned for much of the weekend, police said.

In the space of just 10 hours on Sunday, firefighters responded to 101 calls, the Belfast Telegraph reported. The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) was tackling up to 140 such fires a day, mostly lit in the low scrubby vegetation known as gorse.

A man was reportedly seen with a petrol can close to one of the worst gorse fires for years in the Mourne Mountains, police told the Belfast Telegraph.

“The thought that individuals may be deliberately causing such destruction is very hard to comprehend,” assistant chief constable Gary White said.

Local politician Jim Wells described the scene as one of “total despair.”

“There is no doubt that one of the biggest fires sweeping over (the mountain range of) Binnian was started deliberately,” he said.

He added that the fires had “decimated” wildlife including chicks and nests and left the Mourne Mountains a “charred mess”.

“There have been a couple of narrow escapes — someone could have been killed,” he said. He said that any “idiot” caught deliberately starting a gorse fire should be given a prison sentence.

The National Trust, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the natural environment, said gorse fires in the Mourne Mountains would cause “immense damage,” the BBC reported.

Unseasonably dry weather has sparked fires around Britain over the past weekend, the broadcaster said.

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said: “Not only is there significant damage to the wildlife, flora, fauna and biodiversity but the mountains are a significant part of Northern Ireland tourism.

“If these fires have been started deliberately, this will have a massive impact.”

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