Mourne Mountains fire fighting operation to continue into third day

An operation to put out one of the largest gorse fires in recent years in Northern Ireland is to continue into a third day.

More than 100 firefighters have been tackling the blaze in the Mourne Mountains since Friday.

Coastguard helicopters from the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain allowed fire chiefs an aerial view of the blaze to help inform tactics as well as transporting personnel to remote locations to tackle the flames.

Aidan Jennings, assistant chief fire and rescue officer, said the view from above also allowed them to plan which resources to deploy on Sunday.

“We are working closely with many partner agencies at the scene and this support has been invaluable. This is truly a multi-agency effort to bring this fire under control,” he said.

“We are making good progress however it’s been a challenging and exhausting day for everyone involved.

Jennings said with warm weather expected to continue, the conditions are perfect to allow wildfires to start and spread quickly.

He has urged the public to stay away from the area of the blaze, and also to be fire aware. He also provided reassurance that fire crews will be available to those who need them despite the operation in the Mournes.

The blaze in the Slieve Donard area started in the early hours of Friday morning.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service declared a major incident on Saturday.

Dramatic images of the County Down peak ablaze sparked concern, with first minister Arlene Foster tweeting: “This is devastating and tragic. The impact on wildlife and flora is unimaginable. Full support to those battling the flames.”

Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis described the scenes as “deeply distressing” at one of the region’s most beautiful landmarks. He paid tribute to the firefighters at the scene.

Environment minister Edwin Poots said “horrifying damage” is being done over a wide spread area, particularly to wildlife and biodiversity.

He met emergency responders at the major incident command centre in Newcastle on Saturday.

Poots commended all involved in the effort to stem the fire.

“This should not be happening, it is a time of the year when there is a lot of dry grass about, and people need to be ultra cautious that they don’t accidentally start a fire like this,” he said.

“And for those who do it deliberately – you are doing massive damage to the environment, to biodiversity and to wildlife.”

He said the area could take years to recover from the damage.

Jennings said this is “undoubtedly one of the most challenging gorse fires firefighters have ever had to deal with”.