DAERA and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) are asking farmers and the public for their help amid warnings the current dry weather spell could spark wildfires.

The hot and dry weather has left the countryside vulnerable to fires caused by burning of vegetation or waste, with littering and dumping of waste materials also putting the region’s emergency services under more pressure.

Minister of Agriculture and Environment Edwin Poots said: “As we work our way through the Covid-19 crisis, no one should start a fire in the countryside and place further strain on our emergency services.

A number of significant wildfire incidents have occurred over recent weeks which have threatened property and destroyed valuable habitats.

“Wildfires are rarely natural. They are almost always started either deliberately, or by reckless burning or disposal of flammable vegetation or waste material. Waste or litter might also contain glass, which can easily start a fire on a sunny day.”

Due to the time of year and prevailing weather conditions (such as those associated with high-pressure systems), experts warn of an increased fire risk in all areas where dead grasses and shrubs such as heather and gorse exist.

Ongoing predominantly dry weather, with a brisk wind at times, will exacerbate the potential for wildfires to spread.

Minister Poots added: “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 urging the public to take extreme caution because wildfires could result in tragedy for people caught in the line of a fire – don’t burn waste or vegetation and, don’t fly-tip or drop litter.

Interim chief fire and rescue officer Michael Graham said: “Dealing with wildfires unnecessarily draws our resources away from where they are needed most, protecting our community.

“We are well placed to continue protecting our community during the Covid-19 pandemic; however, it is important that the public work with us to not add any additional pressure on the emergency services during this time.

“We would, therefore, appeal to farmers to support us by not carrying out controlled burning and remind the public to exercise common sense in the countryside.”

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

If you see a fire:

  • If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service;
  • Do not attempt to tackle fires that cannot be put out with a bucket of water;
  • Leave the area as soon as possible;
  • If you see someone setting fires, report it to the PSNI.

If you do know people who are fire setting, let the PSNI know to assist with prosecutions.

If you are in the countryside:

  • Extinguish cigarettes and other flammable materials properly;
  • Never throw cigarette ends out of car windows;
  • Avoid using open fires in the countryside;
  • Be considerate in parking vehicles so as not to impede access by emergency vehicles.