DAERA minister calls for halt to prescribed burning

Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture Edwin Poots has urged farmers and land managers to halt all prescribed burning in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The minister said he hoped to reduce additional pressures on Northern Ireland’s emergency services and warned the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS), for example, cannot currently guarantee the normal level of response to wildfires.

Minister Poots said: “Prescribed burning is a method of land management used to improve our game habitat and the quality of grazing in areas of upland dominated by heather.

Landowners and managers usually carry out prescribed burning from mid-March to mid-April because the weather and ground conditions best suit the work.

“However, prescribed burning can be one of the causes of wildfires that then requires NIFRS, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Forest Service to act.

“As we work our way through this crisis no one should start a fire in the countryside and place further strain on our already stretched emergency services.”

As a result, the department is advising landowners and managers to stop any prescribed burning operations during the remainder of the prescribed burning season, which closes at midnight on April 14 and not to recommence any prescribed burning until September 1.

It adds that if a prescribed burn is absolutely essential, a full risk assessment should be carried out as per normal procedures and this must now also consider the reduced availability of NIFRS to respond to any escaped fires. And, it is even more important than normal that sufficient personnel and resources are available to manage the fire.

Assistant chief fire and rescue officer Alan Walmsley said: “The Covid-19 pandemic will lead to significant pressures on NIFRS including a reduction in the number of frontline firefighters available for emergency response.

“We would, therefore, appeal to farmers to support us by not carrying out controlled burning at this time and appeal to the public to be fire safe.”

Members of the public are also urged to exercise common sense in the countryside. For example:

  • Always extinguish smoking materials properly;
  • Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows; and
  • Be considerate when parking so as not to block access for emergency vehicles.

The public are also reminded that the deliberate setting of wildfires is a criminal offence and if you see anyone setting a fire you should call the PSNI immediately.

Minister Poots added: “Wildfires are rarely natural. They are almost always started either deliberately, or by careless behaviour.

It is important that we all play our part in protecting our communities and vulnerable citizens during this national emergency, to ensure that we do not add unnecessary pressures to the emergency services.

“I’m also urging the public to take extreme caution because wildfires could result in tragedy for people caught in the line of a fire.”