The Killarney National Park Fire
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
This subtle difference between wild and forest fires ignores the fact that Ireland has a rich record of highly destructive (and mostly preventable) forest fires.
The national park is situated near Killarney, in County Kerry, and was the first national park formed in Ireland, The park coers over 25,425 acres including the famed Lakes of Killarney, oak and yew woodlands of global importance and mountain peaks (such as Torc mountain). It has the only red deer herd on mainland Ireland and (prior to the April 24th fire) had the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in Ireland. The park is located in southwest Ireland close to Ireland's most westerly point. The Lakes of Killarney and Mangerton, Torc, Shehy and Purple Mountains are located in the Killarney park.
The Killarney National Park Fire
The fire started in Killarney National Park, just close to midnight last Friday night, April 24th, with the cause (most likely arson) and has was fanned by a strong breeze. The blaze is destroying some of the most ecologically sensitive landscapes in western Europe and the oldest natural oak woods in Ireland. At this stage one helicopter was deployed, with the Air Corps stating that more than 50,000 litres of water had been poured on the fire in an attempt to halt the blaze.
This is in vain, however, as emergency service personnel, continued efforts to bring the massive fire under control. The fire is leaving a devastating trail of destruction with birds, insects and other wildlife wiped out with an ongoing threat to the ancient oakwoods near the Eagle’s Nest and other areas. The fire was by Sunday night still burning, despite earlier statements that it was under control with over one third of the park totally destroyed. It was reported that two extra aircraft were hired, on Sunday (when the situation was already hopelessly out of control) and which obviously should have been instigated the moment the fire started, given the weather conditions.
The fire is leaving a devastating trail of destruction with birds, insects and other wildlife wiped out with an ongoing threat to the ancient oakwoods near the Eagle’s Nest and other areas.
Irish National Parks
There are six National Parks in Ireland. In 1969, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recommended that all governments agree to reserve the term 'National Park' to areas sharing the following characteristics:
• Where one or several ecosystems are not materially altered by human exploitation and occupation; where plant and animal species, geomorphological sites and habitats are of special scientific, educational and recreational interest or which contain a natural landscape of great beauty;
• Where the highest competent authority of the country has taken steps to prevent or eliminate as soon as possible exploitation or occupation in the whole area and to enforce effectively the respect of ecological, geomorphological or aesthetic features which have led to its establishment;
• Where visitors are allowed to enter, under special conditions, for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes.
It was reported that two extra aircraft were hired, on Sunday (when the situation was already hopelessly out of control) and which obviously should have been instigated the moment the fire started, given the weather conditions.
French Aerial Fire Control
With regard to aerial fire control, In France, the civil defence is an agency of the French Ministry of the Interior, and employs some 2,500 civilian and military personnel. The service de la planification et de la gestion des crises is the crisis oversight service and includes aerial firefighting duties, with twelve Bombardier 415s operated by the Sécurité Civile, each able to drop 6,137 l (1,350 imp gal; 1,621 US gal).
Two Bombardier Dash 8 Q400s, act as fire-fighting water bombers in fire season and as transport aircraft off season. The aircraft can be reconfigured into the passenger, cargo or aerial fire control role in under three hours and can drop 10,000 L (2,200 imp gal; 2,600 US gal) in the tanker role, with six more ordered in 2017 for €365 million, with six delivered by 2020. Also, seven Conair Turbo Firecats are in operation, and 3 Beechcraft Super King Air 200's.
Of course, this large fleet would be unnecessary for fire control in Ireland, 1-2, or 3 at most would be sufficient. As to cost, Kerry, has had much of its tourist economy wiped out in 3-4 days, depending on how long it takes to put this April fire out.
According to an, an official statement from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage stated that: “Wildfires are generally not a natural phenomenon in Ireland." This subtle difference between wild and forest fires, (the Department has responsibility for forest fires, but wildfires are a different matter as they are unpreventable), ignores the fact that Ireland has a rich record of highly destructive (and mostly preventable) forest fires.
Forest fires in Ireland
In the 20 years up to 2010, 250 to 300 hectares of forest (public and private) was destroyed annually. In 2010, the fire loss total jumped to 1,500 hectares. The causes of most forest fires lie outside the forest boundary. The main causes of forest fires are a) illegal/ inappropriate burning, b) carelessness, and c) malicious acts. The main fire risk season is February to June. March and April are the most critical months, upland areas are a particular concern, all of these are well-known facts.
Emergency Management of Fires
A Department of Agriculture Teagasc Action Plan outlines the following measures fire control in forests:
Ensure you have a current and accurate fire plan for each forest.
Such a fire plan should include a map showing access and assembly points for fire fighting personnel and equipment and potential sources of water.
Also include contact details for the emergency services, relevant forest management companies, forest owner groups, neighbouring landowners and forest owners in order to summon help should the need arise. Have fire-fighting tools such as beaters, buckets, knapsack sprayers and pumps to hand and ready to use.
Were these measures put into place at Killarney this spring and other national parks in Ireland? It remains unclear if any of the above measures were instituted in any systematic way at Killarney National Park, one third of which lies in ruins. The answer appears to be clear.
In 2017, thousands of acres of forest, moorland and wildlife burned at Cloosh Valley, Co. Galway, with up to one-third of forest cover destroyed. Coillte stated it would take up to twenty-five years to renew stock. 1,500 hectares of forestry and 2,000 hectares of bog land were ruined in the blaze.
The Cloosh Valley fire destroyed one-third of Ireland's largest forest and was regarded as the largest ever fire on State forestry lands. In fact, heavy and persistent rain helped put out the last pockets of fire on the 4,000 hectare site.
Kerry Co. Council has several major projects all affecting Killarney National Park. These include extensive road proposals
Killarney, Ireland's greatest national park, is endangered, from fires, and other activity, including roads in the near future (Habitats Directive Assessment Natura Impact Report of the draft Killarney Municipal District Local Area Plan 2018-2024, p.74).
Kerry Co. Council has several major projects all affecting Killarney National Park. These include extensive road proposals:
The aforementioned Farranfore to N22 road improvement proposal.
The N22 to N71 roadway, (which contains a bridge and roadway proposal).
Once completed, these roads will inevitably bring rezoning in their wake, at first around Killarney National Park, and then directly inside the park itself. In this scenario, the famed Muckross House would be converted into a hotel, perhaps after the year 2024, when this fire is long forgotten.