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Forest Fires - Practical steps to minimise the risk

Forest Fires - Practical steps to minimise the risk

Frances McHugh, Forestry Development Officer, discusses practical actions for forest owners that make significant impact to mitigate the risk and potential damage from forest fires

It’s difficult to focus on the issue of Forest Fires after prolonged wet weather, however experience tells us that being fully aware of forest fire threats and taking timely steps to mitigate these threats is very important, particularly during the high risk period that runs up to May. 

Most forests will carry some level of fire risk but forested areas with surrounding moorland vegetation such as molinia grass, heather or gorse is particularly high risk as it dries extremely quickly and is highly flammable.

Forest fires don’t tend to start naturally and are nearly always lit. The main causes include the inappropriate and/or illegal burning of scrub (prohibited under the Wildlife Act from March 1 to August 31), malicious intent, anti-social behaviour and carelessness.

The average area destroyed by fire annually in Ireland over the last 20 years or so is 250-300 hectares. As well as the obvious financial loss, there is the severe ecological cost to these valuable habitats. Forest fires can also put houses and indeed lives at risk so again, good planning around the risk of fire is extremely important.

Practical actions

Have a fire plan in place

A Fire Plan is a simple document with some key information which provides efficiencies and speed if a fire occurs. Every forest owner should have a carefully prepared fire plan in place with copies available to neighbours, relevant foresters and the local fire service.

A good fire plan should include:

  • A map of the forest showing local roads and access points
  • A clear to-do list if a fire occurs
  • Identified escape routes, assembly points
  • Equiptment locations and location of key, if in a locked shed
  • Location and type of water sources
  • Contact details for emergency services, forestry company, and neighbours


Have fire-fighting tools such as fire beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps to hand and in good working order. These maybe stored locally and might be shared with other forest owners.

Check current forest fire warning

Be aware of the current forest fire warning. The existing condition can be checked here. Familiarise yourself with the Fire Danger Rating System based on Met Eireann Fire Weather Index and European Forest Fire Information System outputs with additional processing and analysis by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

Work with neighbours

Co-operation is vital. Talk to your neighbours and nearby forest owners. Develop joint fire plans and share responsibility for guarding against fire risks.

Be vigilant

Be vigilant, especially during dry spells. A period of 24-48 hours is sufficient to dry out dead moorland vegetation. Be particularly vigilant at weekends, and at evening times. If fire is detected, summon help immediately and activate your fire plan. Do not rely on others to call the Fire Service.

Check fire breaks and access routes

Where protective fire breaks are in place around your forest, 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 forest are maintained in good order. If there is a locked forest gate in place, make sure the padlock is well oiled and that the well-marked key can easily be found.

Insure your forest

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) requires beneficiaries of planting grants and premiums to sustainably manage and protect their forests. This includes an obligation to replant where a forest is damaged by fire. Therefore, make sure to have adequate insurance cover in place. Consider adequately insuring against re-establishment costs, loss of timber values and fire brigade call-out charges.

Report losses

If your forest is damaged by fire, you should report this to the nearest Garda Station and to the Forestry Division, DAFM.

Visitors to the countryside and forests - Remember

  • Avoid parking across entrances that might impede emergency service access to forest roads
  • Do not light fires in and around forests or open land
  • Do not attempt to intervene or fight fires under any circumstances
  • Telephone Fire and Rescue Services via 112 and report the fire and its location