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DofE - Wildfires in Northern Ireland Expedition Areas

Posted 19th May 2017

DofE Northern Ireland
Wildfires in Northern Ireland Expedition Areas UPDATE PUBLIC

Following the recent gorse fires in areas of the country, and in light of the extensive and prolonged gorse fires which occurred back during the 2011 expedition season, particularly in the Mournes and the Antrim Plateau, we would like to issue the following advice to Leaders and Assessors.
Hundreds of gorse fires have already been reported across the island of Ireland during the month of May. The extent of gorse coupled with extremely dry conditions creates perfect conditions for wildfires to start.
Since Monday 1st May 2017 – 8th May 2017 Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) has attended 511 gorse fires of which 466 were started deliberately.

A recent high profile fire occurred on and around Cuilcagh Mountain and the Florencecourt area in Co. Fermanagh, an area that is used by DofE groups, and this area was closed for several days. Several fires also occurred on the Belfast Hills, an area sometimes used by local schools for DofE training days.

Global warming projections would indicate that the potential for a prolonged dry period is highly possible and therefore we are likely to see increased incidents of fires in Expedition Areas.
It is vitally important that groups are briefed and trained in procedures as part of their expedition preparation. Fires can travel much faster than a group can run.
We would also like to remind teams of the importance of having and knowing their ‘escape routes’ on their route cards, as well as having a ‘’bad weather’’ route option, which should all be part of their expedition pre planning and route submissions.

Keeping up-to-date with local news and announcements on the media and from the authorities is always an important part of any pre-expedition check, and we would remind those teams that may be venturing further afield to areas such as Donegal or Wicklow that news from there might not always reach the local media in Northern Ireland, and so local knowledge should always be sought before departure.

Training should always include the safe use of cooking stoves and that camp fires are not permitted on DofE expeditions.
Prior to and during the ventures both Leaders and Assessors should pay particular attention to:
· The weather conditions ie long periods without rain and high temperatures.
· The risk level for fires, wind direction and strength.
· The means by which a group could be evacuated from their route in the event of incidents of Gorse Fires.
· In the event that the emergency services make a national announcement, requesting the public to avoid an area of any planned expedition, as happened in 2011, that area should be abandoned and rescheduled.

In the event of incidents occurring whilst groups are on qualifying expeditions:
· The adjustment of planned routes and relocation of campsites to avoid incidents of gorse fires is acceptable. Any adjustments should still meet the basic requirements of the level of the Award being undertaken
· In the event of significant fires expeditions may need to be aborted.
· It is vital to ensure Assessors are informed of any revised changes in the route. They may also be of assistance when seeking up-to-date information prior to the venture or when looking at alternative routes if required.
· Groups could play an important role in notifying emergency services of a potential fire ie. identifying smoke. Groups should be advised not to tackle fires.

Please do not hesitate to contact GBNI or the DofE Northern Ireland Office if you have any further questions on this issue.

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The Girls’ Brigade Northern Ireland is registered as a company limited by guarantee in Northern Ireland No. NI058531, registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100405 and recognised as a charity for tax purposes by HMRC Reference No. XR34309. VAT Registration No. 254684143.

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