I would like to take this opportunity to put on official record my thanks to both the Kerry Fire Service and the staff from my Department's National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in Killarney, and of course all the volunteers who came to our assistance on Friday evening and Saturday morning 29 and 30 March who worked tirelessly through the night to quench the fire at Torc Mountain. Preliminary mapping by NPWS staff has shown that that in excess of 70 hectares (175 acres) of priority habitat has been extensively damaged by this fire, as well as having severe localised impact on flora and fauna. The cause of the fire is still under investigation and the NPWS will be following up with authorities including the Kerry Fire Services to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the blaze. As the fire spread on Torc Mountain East to South, parts of the boardwalk have also been damaged and consequently the walk had to be closed temporarily while the route is assessed and repaired. Parts of the boardwalk will need to be replaced including some wire netting and sleepers.
As you are aware, significant environmental damage can be caused by illegal burning. Wild fires are not a natural phenomenon in Ireland and can have a local impact on species that cannot escape, or that lose breeding habitat as a result. Such impacts are generally fairly short term, but could be very serious for species that are already in decline, such as curlew. Some plant and moss species may be lost or greatly reduced. UK research showed that where scrub such as gorse is burned it can have a lasting impact on soils and cause increased erosion which can in turn impact on rivers through increasing siltation of the water, especially if this burning happens repeatedly.
My Department and I condemn the spate of wildfires in recent years and would appeal to members of the public to be conscious of the dangers posed by fire on open ground. Even planned and/or "controlled" burning can get out of hand very quickly, so it is critically important that every member of society realises the damage that can be caused to property and, indeed, the health and welfare of family, neighbours and the wider community, and the responding emergency services. The main source of wild fires is thought to be the deliberate starting of fires without concern for the consequences. Aside from such malicious activities, one of the main challenges is to encourage members of the public, (including landowners, farmers and recreational users of publicly accessible land), to act responsibly at all times, to be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, to be mindful of the need to protect property, both publicly owned and privately owned and to appreciate the value of our natural heritage, particularly in our National Parks, Nature Reserves and Designated (Natura 2000) Sites.
In conclusion, I would again appeal to all members of the public to be conscious of the danger posed by fire - any fire - but particularly a fire on open ground which can very quickly get out of control. We have all seen how homes and lives can be threatened and we can also see the damage to the landscape and to valuable habitats caused by uncontrolled fires.