With wildfires reported in several locations around Ireland, and with temperatures set to continue to remain high over the weekend, members of the public are reminded to take care while walking here in Sligo and throughout the country.
Unfortunately we have suffered from wildfires in Sligo in the past, and we should all take steps to ensure that we should never – even inadvertently – cause a fire to start or spread. And we should also be aware of the steps we can take if we come across a blaze anywhere in the countryside as the hot weather persists. And with water levels diminishing, we are asked to preserve water, and avoid unnecessary use and wastage, with Met Éireann and Irish Water predicting that even when the current warm spell comes to an end, that it will take a long time for reservoirs and waterways to reach their normal water levels.
So what to do if you see a fire burning out of control in the countryside?
First thing is to make sure you contact the Emergency Services on 999 or 112. Don’t presume that someone else will report the fire, in particular in more isolated areas. Ask for the fire service when the operator answers and report the location of the fire. Make sure you follow their instructions, in particular in relation to your own safety and that of anyone in the area.
Don’t ever approach a wildfire and stay up-wind of it if you come across one unexpectedly. If you smell smoke before you see the wildfire, proceed with caution to see if the source of the smoke is just an attended campfire or something more sinister. But under no circumstances should you risk your own well-being, particularly if walking in an area unfamiliar to you. Remember that wind direction can also change suddenly. Not only can a fire move at a significant pace when the wind is up, but you can also become disorientated easily as smoke engulfs the area.
Never leave a camp fire unattended and ensure that any fire you have lit has been completely extinguished before you leave, and douse it in cold water until it is cold throughout. Most wildfires are started from situations whereby someone has presumed that a campfire has been extinguished only for this not to be the case. And of course, take the greatest of care if you are starting a campfire or barbecue in the current weather as the nearby grassland is so dry that it can act as kindling and even a spark may be enough for it to catch fire. Take particular care if using an accelerant to light your barbecue. If using a caravan or camper van you should always have a fire extinguisher with you and ensure that it is within its warranty. This also goes for any equipment you use while camping – check that everything is working as it should, and don’t find yourself in a situation where a car won’t start when it should or a fire extinguisher in the boot of your car won’t work because it hasn’t been tested.
Don’t ever toss cigarette butts away, especially out of car windows. This is a disgusting habit at the best of times, but particularly during times of drought like we currently have, a discarded cigarette butt can easily be enough to start a fire.
Unfortunately, even if we take all reasonable safety measures, it may happen that we still find ourselves in the path of a wildfire. Should this happen – or even before we head out, we could consider some of these safety precautions – the following may help.
Leave home with a fully charged mobile phone, having left information with someone who knows where you are planning to hike, and what time you expect to return.
Listen out for weather reports before you head out and prepare accordingly. In terms of warm weather, bring plenty of fluids, sun protective cream and suitable clothing and footwear. Remember that even when you head out in warm weather, sometimes the evenings can become colder quite quickly so bring some extra layers with you. And even if you do have a fully charged phone, remember that sometimes coverage can be quite poor in isolated areas in particular.
If you find yourself near a fire, pour some water onto a cloth and cover your face, breathing through the cloth. The water will keep you cool and also repel some of the effects of the smoke. Don’t try to outrun a wildfire or take a short cut back to your car that passes near to the direction of the fire. Make your way towards the nearest water source – lake, stream, river or sea and seek cover there until the danger has passed. Contact the emergency services if you are in any doubt or concerned for your own safety or that of others. Stay together, do not split up, and remain calm at all times.
Forest owners and landowners are being particularly vigilant during the current dry spell and Coillte, Teagasc and other bodies are doing their best to raise awareness in what are very unusual weather circumstances. We want to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of the bog fires that took place just five years ago and which burned some of the bogland around the Sligo Way at Slish Wood and which led to some of the walkway being rebuilt. We also recall the forest fire that took place in Easky, as well as others in the Ox Mountains and elsewhere. All areas around the county are particularly vulnerable at the moment so let’s all do our bit to help protect ourselves, wildlife and the environment in our locality.
More information and safety videos are available on our website www.SligoWalks.ie.
For landowners, visit https://www.teagasc.ie/crops/forestry/advice/management/dealing-with-wildfires/ for further information on how to devise a fire plan for your land or farm.