Northern Ireland firefighters battle major fire in Mourne Mountains

Northern Ireland firefighters battle major fire in Mourne Mountains

FIREFIGHTERS IN Northern Ireland are battling a major gorse fire in the Slieve Donard area of the Mourne Mountains in County Down. 

The blaze first began in the early hours of Friday morning and has continued on for a second day with police urging the public to stay away from the area. 

An emergency fire operation to tackle the situation has been escalated today as teams from the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) attempt to bring things under control. 

As many as 70 firefighters and 12 appliances are said to be at the scene of the fire around the lower slopes of Slieve Donard, the Glen River Valley and Thomas Mountain. 

In a statement, the fire service said: "NIFRS are currently escalating firefighting operations in the Mourne Mountains. A large number of resources will be in attendance. 

"We would kindly ask members of the public not to gather in the immediate area and request that walkers avoid the Newcastle side of Slieve Donard." 

They also asked the public to exercise "due care and vigilance in relation to fire safety if out in the countryside during this current dry spell". 

Dramatic pictures and video footage of the unfolding chaos has been widely circulated on social media. 

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis described the scenes as “deeply distressing” and paid tribute to those fire fighters at the scene. 

“Deeply distressing to witness the scenes of the large gorse fire at Slieve Donard,” he tweeted. 

“The Mourne Mountains are among Northern Ireland's most beautiful landmarks and the impact on the local environment is tragic.” 

First Minister Arlene Foster also tweeting: “This is devastating and tragic. The impact on wildlife and flora is unimaginable. Full support to those battling the flames.” 

Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service Asst Chief Fire Officer Aidan Jennings told the BBC significant resources were being moved into the area today with water and foam deployed to prevent the fire from spreading further. 

Operations have been set up in Donard Park and crews are expected to continue to battle the fire throughout Saturday.