Water was pumped from the nearby lake to help fight the large wildfire at Castlewellan Forest Park that was started deliberately last month
NI WATER has said that their warnings about reducing water usage in the South Down area are not related to the recent wildfires.
Countless gorse fires and wildfires have occurred in the area, particularly around the Mourne Mountains since March.
This has resulted in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) using large volumes of water to extinguish the fires.
Last week NI Water issued text messages to residents encouraging them to limit the water they use, where possible.
However, a resident from the Trassey Road, close to where recent fires had occurred, said they believed the use of water to extinguish “deliberately started” fires meant local people were being punished for normal water usage at this time of year.
“I was already being careful with my water because of the good weather we have been having,” said the resident.
“However, I wonder how many gallons have been sapped from the system putting out the fires that were wilfully started? Whoever it was should be fined a hefty amount and that money should be given to NI Water.
“They were there for 48 hours recently with six hosepipes coming straight out of the reservoir.
“2011 was a really bad year and I know one or two of the farmers who were responsible for them. I think they should be held accountable.
“It’s just outrageous the quantity of water that has been expended,” they added.
However, in a statement to The Outlook, NI Water said the two issues were not related.
“NI Water works closely with NIFRS to ensure they always have a supply of water for extinguishing fires,” said a spokesperson.
“The NIFRS takes water from a range of water sources including rivers, lakes and the sea to extinguish fires as well as our reservoirs when requires. Firefighters very rarely take water from NI Water reservoirs,” they said.
“Now, more than ever, we all value having a secure supply of safe, clean water. With the long dry spell we have had for a few months and people at home due to Covid-19 restrictions, demand on water has been high.”
Over 50 firefighters tackled a blaze at Castlewellan Forest Park last month to bring it under control
The spokesperson was also keen to highlight that our drinking water can be affected by these fires.
“Wildfires not only pose a risk to human life, wildlife, property and the environment, but also to our drinking water supply.
“Many areas which might be prone to wildfires like the Mourne Mountains, are also in our drinking water catchments, where water is collected by the natural landscape into rivers, lakes and streams.
“NI Water’s number one priority is the safety and quality of the drinking water we provide. Our 24 drinking water catchments supply water to all of Northern Ireland. Our teams work 24/7 to ensure excellent quality drinking water at all times.
“In responding to the recent wildfires, NIFRS has very rarely used water from NI Water reservoirs. This is similar to previous years when there have been incidents of significant wildfires.
“However, with the long dry spell we have had for a few months and people at home due to Covid-19 restrictions, demand on water has been high and wildfires have the potential to put extra pressure on NI Water resources, as well as putting extra pressure on Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, which is why it is so important that we all work together to prevent these wildfires from happening.”
The spokesperson said that the text message issued to customers was asking them not to use additional water.
“The fires in the South Down area are not related to the communication for reducing demand. NI Water issued texts to customers who had signed up previously to a free Text Alert Service, meaning customers would be notified of anything affecting their water supply.
“The text issued to customers, informed them about the high demand for water in recent days and reminded customers to use water wisely and not use sprinklers, hosepipes or fill paddling pools.
“NI Water is encouraging customers to sign up to its free text alert service which keeps them updated about anything that may impact on their water supply or any of our other services in the area. Sign up here https://www.niwater.com/register-for-keeping-you-informed/”
They added that NI Water works closely with the NIFRS to ensure they always have a supply of water for extinguishing fires.
“The NIFRS take water from a range of water sources including rivers, lakes and the sea to extinguish fires as well as our reservoirs when required.
“The public are reminded that deliberate setting of wildfires is a criminal offence. If you see a fire in the countryside, report it immediately to the Fire & Rescue Service.
“Do not attempt to tackle fires that cannot be put out with a bucket of water; leave the area as soon as possible; if you see someone setting fires, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
“If you are in the countryside never fly-tip waste material; extinguish cigarettes and other flammable materials properly; never throw cigarette ends out of car windows; avoid using open fires and be considerate in parking vehicles so as not to impede access by emergency vehicles,” they said.