Mourne Mountains: Assistant fire chief thanks all for support

Northern Ireland’s assistant fire chief has paid tribute to all the support received as firefighters spend a third day tackling a major blaze in the Mourne Mountains.

Thirty firefighters and four appliances have been at the Co Down peaks since first light on Sunday.

Aidan Jennings, assistant chief fire and rescue officer, said the operation will continue across the day.

Firefighters efforts have been supported by police, Coastguard, Mourne Rescue Team, Forestry Service, National Trust, NIEA and Sky Watch Patrol.

Coastguard helicopters from the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain allowed fire chiefs an aerial view of the blaze to help inform tactics, transport personnel to remote locations and plan resources.

Local people and businesses have been providing food and support.

Mr Jennings thanked all for their support and firefighters for their hard work and resilience in “extremely difficult conditions”.

“Your dedication and commitment in working tirelessly to resolve this incident and maintain our response across Northern Ireland during this period is at the very heart of what it means to be a firefighter,” he said.

Mourne Mountains fire
Aidan Jennings asked people to be extra fire aware (Rebecca Black/PA)

He added his thanks to local people and businesses for food and refreshments: “Your support has been a great source of encouragement for our firefighters and partner agencies as we work to resolve this incident.”

On Saturday Mr Jennings said it is “undoubtedly one of the most challenging gorse fires firefighters have ever had to deal with”.

He said fire crews will be available to those who need them despite the operation in the Mournes, but asked the public to be extra fire aware.

“I want to reassure everyone that we have put contingency measures in place and if you need us in an emergency we will respond,” he said.

“However, I am asking everyone to be extra fire aware at this time both in your home and in particular in the countryside.”

The blaze in the Slieve Donard area started in the early hours of Friday.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service declared a major incident on Saturday.

There is no indication yet of how it started.

Dramatic images of the mountains ablaze sparked concern, with First Minister Arlene Foster tweeting: “This is devastating and tragic. The impact on wildlife and flora is unimaginable. Full support to those battling the flames.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill voiced “huge admiration” for the firefighters and all responders.

Mourne Mountains fire
Photo taken with permission from the Twitter feed of @DeeJayDready showing a huge gorse fire spreading across the Mourne Mountains in Co Down, as seen from Newcastle, Co Down

Environment Minister Edwin Poots visited the scene on Saturday.

He described horrifying damage is being done over a widespread area, particularly to wildlife and biodiversity.

On Saturday the flames spread from Bloody Bridge, across Thomas Mountain and the base of Slieve Donard, as well up Northern Ireland’s highest peak to less accessible ground.

On Sunday the focus of firefighting efforts were in the Bloody Bridge area following overnight winds.