Ireland is fortunate in not experiencing the large scale devastating forest fires that are common in drier regions. The mild moist climate with rainfall throughout the year ensures that prolonged droughts are a very rare. While crown fires in mature forests seldom happens, young plantations are vulnerable to fire especially during late spring and early summer when dead ground vegetation built up during the previous season begins to dry out. The practice of burning gorse and heather on hills to provide new growth for livestock is a major threat to forests. These fires can often get out of control, particularly during dry and windy weather, and enter plantations. Approximately 450 ha of forest are lost to fire each year in the period from February to September with the vast majority occurring in March, April and May.
A number of measures are taken by foresters to prevent fire damage in forests including:
- Fires plans – These are contingency plans in the event of an outbreak detailing access routes, location of fire fighting equipment , water sources, procedures in contacting fire brigades, helicopter services, Gardai, personnel to assist in putting out the fire etc.
- Fire Weather Index – produced by Met Éireann, this assesses the fire risk in an area taking into account current and past weather conditions. It also uses forecast weather information to produce a forecast index for five days ahead.
- Fire lines – creating vegetation free line of approx 5-6 metres in width around the outer edge of a plantation to prevent the entry of ground fires.
- Water reservoirs – locating reservoirs at strategic points in larger forests to supply water when no suitable local sources are available.
- Planting of larch which due to its light crown can prevent the spread fire in conifer stands.
Loosing a plantation to fire has financial consequences for the owner, however, it is possible to insure plantations against fire and reconstitution grants for replanting are available from the Forest Service. While these will help to recoup some of the initial investment lost, the owner must start again and they will not make up for the time lost.