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Forestry and Wildfires

Uncontrolled wildfires have had devastating consequences over the past few years.

Uncontrolled wildfires: devastating consequences

Forest fires are a major concern for forest owners. February to May is a high risk period for forest fires as dead moorland vegetation can dry out very fast and it becomes highly flammable.

While some fire may be accidental, many have been shown to result from inappropriate and/or illegal burning of scrub, malicious intent and carelessness. Forest owners and neighbouring landowners should be particularly vigilant during evenings and weekends, when land burning is most likely to take place.

Where fire breaks are in place, ensure that they are inspected regularly and kept vegetation free. Firebreaks should be at least six metres wide. Fire plans (see below) are essential management tools and cooperating with neighbours is vital for successful fire prevention.

The prohibited period for the burning of growing vegetation runs from 1 March to 31 August. All members of rural communities can assist and share responsibility for the protection of our countryside, forest resource and property. Awareness of the real threat from fire, forward planning, co-operation and effective prevention mechanisms are critical elements to achieve this.

Public awareness and prevention

A range of initiatives both at national and local level have been deployed in recent years to raise awareness and help prevent future wildfire incidents.

The current Forest Fire Danger Rating can be consulted on the homepage of this website. This index provides information on the fire risk in different areas throughout Ireland taking into account current and past weather conditions.

Teagasc Forestry tweets (@teagascforestry) also provide regular updates during periods of high fire risk.

Measures for forest owners

The value and multiple benefits of forestry are now widely recognised. Huge resources have been invested, both in terms of land committed by private owners and financial incentives by the State. Forest owners should take appropriate measures to minimise the threat to their plantations from wildfires during the fire risk season. The following simple, cost effective steps can go a long way towards reducing the risk of damage to your valuable forest resource:

  1. FIRE PLAN. Ensure you have a current and accurate fire plan for each forest. Such a fire plan should include a map showing access and assembly points for fire fighting personnel and equipment and potential sources of water. Also include contact details for the emergency services, relevant forest management companies, forest owner groups, neighbouring landowners and forest owners in order to summon help should the need arise. Have fire-fighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps to hand and ready to use.
  2. WORK WITH NEIGHBOURS. Co-operation is vital to achieve successful fire prevention. Explain your concerns regarding fire risk to your neighbours. The shared threat from fire can present an ideal opportunity for forest owners to work together. This is already happening in relation to forest management and harvesting operations. Owners of adjoining and neighbouring plantations can and should develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for guarding against fire.
  3. BE VIGILANT. Forest owners should be particularly vigilant following dry spells which will occur, despite recent weather patterns. A period of 24-48 hours is sufficient to dry out dead moorland vegetation following rain, where windy conditions exist. Where dry conditions persist, experience suggests that forest owners should be particularly vigilant at weekends, and at evening times, when land burning is most likely to take place. If fire is detected, do not delay, summon help immediately and activate fire plan (see above). Do not rely on others to call the Fire Service.
  4. CHECK FIRE BREAKS AND ACCESS ROUTES. Where fire breaks are required, ensure that they are inspected regularly prior to the fire season and kept vegetation free. Fire breaks should be at least 6 metres wide. Also ensure access routes to your plantation are maintained in good order.
  5. INSURE YOUR CROP. The Forest Service requires beneficiaries of planting grants and premiums to maintain and protect their forests. This includes an obligation to replant where a forest is damaged by fire. Since 1 June 2009, a Reconstitution of Woodland grant is no longer available for plantations damaged by fire. It is therefore strongly recommended that forest owners assess their plantation and the risks involved. Ensure there is adequate insurance cover, including replanting costs. Re-establishment costs vary depending on the age and species of the forest but are often in the region of €3,000 per hectare. Timber values increase with age and the annual insurance premium will reflect this increasing timber value. Fire brigade call out charges can be substantial and adequate cover for this should be also considered within any insurance policy.
  6. REPORT LOSSES. If a plantation is destroyed or damaged by fire, the incident should be reported to the nearest Garda Station and to the Forest Service. Your local forestry inspector can advise on reinstatement measures.  

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