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arson attacks Aerial surveillance to be used to fight illegal wildfires after massive destruction in Wicklow

Let’s be clear: these fires do not occur naturally. They’re set deliberately," Malcolm Noonan TD has said.

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Last week 300 hectares in Wicklow Mountains Park was destroyed by an illegally started wildfire.

Last week 300 hectares in Wicklow Mountains Park was destroyed by an illegally started wildfire.

Last week 300 hectares in Wicklow Mountains Park was destroyed by an illegally started wildfire.

MINISTER for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan TD has visited the site of an illegal 300-hectare fire in Wicklow Mountains Park and condemned those responsible for causing the blaze.

Illegal upland burning devastates vulnerable wildlife and habitats during the breeding season, and also impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing.

Minister Noonan said: “I visited Wicklow Mountains National Park, where well over 300 hectares of natural habitat have been damaged and destroyed over the past few days through illegal upland fires.

“The same scenes have played out in other locations across the country during the latest Met Eireann Orange High Fire Risk alert. These scenes are by no means unfamiliar.

"We see them every year, including in the State’s most valuable natural assets – our National Parks and Nature Reserves – which provide such enormous benefit to nature, society and the economy.

"We all remember the devastation that was caused by the vast illegal fire in Killarney National Park last April.

“Let’s be clear: these fires do not occur naturally. They’re set deliberately, with no concern for the wide-ranging impacts on local people’s health and wellbeing, private property, tourism, emergency services, the defence forces and indeed the public purse. That’s without mentioning the priceless wildlife and habitats that are brutally scorched and the consequent impact of soil mobilisation and siltation on streams, rivers and lakes," said Minister Noonan.

“I’m mindful that the risk of man-made fire is now a permanent feature of our year. As night follows day, at the first extended period of dry weather, these fires are set. They are all illegal after March 1st and invariably they get - or are allowed to get - out of control.

"The people who set them, and I believe they are known in their communities, are a scourge on society and their activities cost all of us. This mentality must change.”

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A helicopter dropping super-sized buckets of water on the blaze to douse flames and hot spots.

A helicopter dropping super-sized buckets of water on the blaze to douse flames and hot spots.

A helicopter dropping super-sized buckets of water on the blaze to douse flames and hot spots.

To support early detection and deterrence, Minister Noonan announced increased patrols and aerial surveillance in all National Parks and Reserves.

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He said: “While these crimes are challenging to prevent due to the scale of property involved, the sporadic occurrences of the fires and types of ignition mechanism frequently deployed, people considering breaking the law in this way should be aware that aerial surveillance operations using drones and helicopters have been increased to support early detection and deterrence.

“As well as this, the National Parks and Wildlife Service maintains increased on-the-ground patrols at all National Parks and Reserves at times of high fire risk. I have increased NPWS’s staffing resource considerably since taking office and growing the organisation further is a key priority for me.”

Minister Noonan has also outlined in the Dáil his support for equipping members of the Defence Forces to assist in combating these illegal fires, as is the case in other jurisdictions.

He added: “I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the staff of NPWS, who bravely and tirelessly face these challenges every year. I’d also like to thank the other organisations that my Department works in close liaison with - the Fire Services, Coillte, and the Gardaí, who lead on any criminal investigations, and also to the Department of Agriculture, with whom my Department engages on a range of matters related to illegal agricultural fires, including the pursuit of cross compliance, where relevant.”

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