Fighting gorse fires on Belfast hills cost £35m
At least a quarter of the heath and grassland in the Belfast hills has been burned by arsonists over the last decade, it has been revealed.
The cost of dealing with the fires is estimated to be in the region of £35m.
In a bid to tackle the problem, the Belfast Hills Partnership is launching a campaign to educate people about the danger of such blazes.
The partnership's project officer, Rose Muir, said they had drawn up maps of the areas which were most at risk.
"We mapped all the heather density and height and we produced maps for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service to actually have on board the fire tenders when they go out," she said.
Ms Muir explained the maps were intended to help firefighters identify the areas of heath which were likely to burn fastest, depending on wind and humidity.'Urgency'
She said the fires not only destroyed the environment, but posed a real danger to those working in or visiting the Belfast hills.
"It's a big area for tourists and people walking about in the hills and somebody might get caught out some day.
"Obviously there are farms and houses which might get caught up in it as well," she said.
The project officer also said the gorse fires were a drain on the Fire Service's resources, and while firefighters were diverted to the hills, houses in the city could be placed at risk.
The partnership is also asking the public to be vigilant and to report gorse fires immediately.