LAND equivalent to 7,600 GAA pitches has been burnt due to wildfires in Donegal in the past six years.
The dramatic statistic is contained in a new report published by the Donegal Fire Service.
The data has been collated as part of the FLARES project – Fire, Land and Atmospheric Remote Sensing. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, the aim of FLARES is to chronicle agricultural and uncontrolled wildland burning events using satellite imagery.
The report, presented to members of Donegal County Council’s Strategic Policy Committee, focuses on vegetation fires between 2015 and 2021.
Chief Fire Officer Joseph McTaggert told the committee that the top three habitats burnt were blanket bog, sparsely vegetated areas and peat bogs.
Incredibly, the area burnt in Donegal accounted for nine per-cent of all the scorched land identified from space in Ireland from 2015 to 2021, as well as ten per-cent of the related emissions.
Joseph McTaggert said that was equivalent to 7,600 GAA football pitches burnt in the county and, in terms of emissions, the same as 28,700 cars driven for one year.
Alongside the FLARES report, the Strategic Policy Committee was presented with the Fire Service’s annual operational statistics.
Last year saw a significant decrease in the number of call-outs, 396 in 2021 compared to the 2020 figure of 498.
There was a slight increase in malicious false alarms, eleven last year compared to eight during the 12 months previous.
Donegal Fire Service is one of the largest retained brigades in the State, second only to Cork.
There are 16 fire stations across the county providing a base for 147 retained firefighters, 14 of whom are based on the islands of Arranmore and Tory.
In terms of population, they serve an area comparable to Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon combined.
But recruitment and retention of firefighters continues to pose a challenge, Donegal’s most senior fire officer revealed. He said he particularly wanted to encourage more women to apply for vacancies as it was “important that the service is reflective of our community”.
Other challenges facing the service include increasing demands in terms of training, health and safety, national guidance, fleet maintenance and replacement and equipment maintenance and replacement.
The cost of keeping Donegal Fire Service running is relatively expensive given the large area it has to cover. The budget for 2022 to date has been €6,966,142. But Joseph McTaggert said the expense was a bit like taking out an insurance policy.
“You pay the money and hope you never need it,” he added.