The skies over Ballyfin were lit up last Saturday and Sunday night when a gorse fire raged out of control.
Mountrath fire crew worked over the weekend with Coillte staff to beat the fire back, which it is suspected was started deliberately, to clear land for grazing.
Though flames were visible from as far away as Portlaoise, there was reportedly no threat to property, forestry or animals in the fire, which was in Upper Sconce, near Conlawn Hill.
“It wasn’t a major fire, but it is illegal and irresponsible to burn gorse this time of year. It causes savage damage, and endangers the community,” said Assistant Chief Fire Officer for Laois, Anthony Tynan.
He said this is the time of year that people traditionally begin to burn gorse, for either grazing or turf cutting, and emphasised that it is a criminal offence if the Gardaí are not notifed in advance.
“The main danger is of it going into forestry. All the firecrews are on alert, we have put in a lot of training sessions working with different groups, including the Air Corp. But these fire do put a major strain on resourses,” said Mr Tynan.
Offaly’s fire services had to battle a large bog fire outside Tullamore last Friday. Crews worked to quench the fire at the Wood of O which was beside a forest for most of the day, and had to return on Saturday morning to fight it again, after the dry weather and wind gave it fresh life.
Last Friday the Gardaí issued a nationwide appeal to reduce forest fires, emphasising the threat that land and forest fires pose to lives and property.
The law states that any person intending to burn within one mile of a wooded area must inform their local Garda station in writing, no less than seven days in advance. Anyone who undertakes burning in such an area without notifying An Garda Síochána is committing an offence.
Superintendent Fergus Healy said the advice is simple.
“If you intend to light a fire on your premises, notify us. Be responsible and take the necessary precautions. And if you see a fire, contact the emergency services immediately by calling 112 or 999.”
The Fire Service are working with An Garda Síochána, Coillte, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and private forestry groups to tackle illegal burning.
“We are asking people to think of their neighbours and their neighbours’ property when they need to burn material. Safety should always come first. Informing Gardaí of your intention to burn is your obligation under the law and it’s your responsibility as a neighbour.
Think and act responsibly at all times when considering controlled burning, particularly if it’s near a wooded area.” Supt Healy said.