Amazing NASA image of Ireland shows chaos caused by gorse fires

11 May 2017

Image: LFRabanedo/Shutterstock

As summer descends on Ireland, the havoc caused by gorse fires across the country has been highlighted in a dramatic new photo released by NASA.

Gorse is a familiar plant to anyone out walking in the countryside of Ireland but unfortunately, its spread can inadvertently lead to disastrous results for the island’s ecosystem.

Over the past month, hundreds of gorse fires of varying size have swept across vast tracts of land, most notably in one of Ireland’s largest forests, Cloosh Valley in Co Galway.

So far, 3,500 hectares of forest and bog land have been lost to gorse fires, out of a total of 4,000 hectares.

To put the extent of the damage in context, NASA has used its Terra satellite to record images of Ireland from space using its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer.

By looking closely at the photo, you can see the pillars of smoke rising from the affected areas.

Ireland NASA image

The small red circles on the image indicate the ongoing gorse fires. Click on the image for a larger version. Image: NASA/Goddard

Dry April to blame

With 30 fires still ongoing in Ireland – mainly in the counties of Roscommon and Sligo – Northern Ireland’s own fire services are reporting equally destructive fires, totalling 511 at the time of writing, 466 of which were started deliberately.

The cause of the fires is linked to the country’s dry conditions that have been ongoing since the beginning of April, so much so that rainfall has fallen by 75pc compared with the annual average.

However, much of the blame for the deliberate fires is being placed on farmers – who are burning gorse to make way for vegetation – and also on those with no other intention but to cause destruction.

The Irish Forestry and Forest Products Association (IFFPA) has issued a statement calling on authorities to step up actions and prevent any future destruction.

“The fires are causing huge economic and environmental damage, and pose serious health and safety risks,” said IFFPA director Mark McAuley.

“Valuable resources are being destroyed, livelihoods threatened and important wildlife habitat decimated. A clear signal must be sent out that any activity that causes the outbreak of a wildfire will not be tolerated and the law will be enforced.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic