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Environment Minister Edwin Poots has visited the Mourne Mountains to thank the first responders battling an extensive wildfire in the area.

Firefighters have been fighting the blaze since Friday and it has caused untold damage to the biodiversity, wildlife and natural habitats of the area. Minister Poots visited the Mournes only this week to see the numerous varieties of flora and fauna and hear about the various species that inhabit the mountains.

Speaking about the fire, Minister Poots said: “Wildfires cause a devastating level of damage to our natural environment and threaten people’s lives, homes and businesses. I want to thank the first responders who are doing everything they can to get the fire under control. Many of these wildfires can be difficult for fire fighters to access safely to control the fire.

“Just this week, I visited the Mournes where I was struck by the beauty of the area and all the life forms that exist there. I was pleased to see the ongoing work to maintain the environment and biodiversity in the area. I am shocked to see the devastation caused by this fire.

“My department has now activated its Major Emergency Response Plan and a gold command structure has been established to deal with the situation. I have instructed them to keep me informed on the situation as it develops. We will do all we can to tackle this extensive wildfire and provide all the support we can to our partner agencies.”

During the visit Minister Poots also saw all terrain vehicles fitted with mobile water sprays which his department has recently purchased to enhance the capability of firefighters to tackle such wildfires. This is the first time these vehicles has been used.

Due to the time of year and prevailing weather conditions (such as those associated with high pressure systems) an increased fire risk is deemed to exist in all areas where dead grasses and shrubs such as heather and gorse exist. As a consequence it is illegal for land managers to burn heather, gorse, whin or fern at this time of the year. Ongoing predominantly dry weather, with a brisk wind at times, will exacerbate the potential for wildfires to spread.

Minister Poots added: “Wildfires are rarely natural. They are almost always started either deliberately, or by reckless burning of flammable vegetation or material. ”

“It is important that we all play our part in protecting our environment, communities and vulnerable citizens. 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 in our countryside at this time of the year.”