Wildland Fire At Loughnacrory

Early afternoon on Friday 16 April 2020, Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol (Northern Ireland) deployed four personnel to the Loughmacrory area of Barony Road, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, to assist NI Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) with a serious wildland fire. The area was rural, with fire spreading on the eastern side of Barony Road, through gorse, heather and scrub above ground and peat below, all very dry due to the exceptional warm, sunny weather conditions experienced over the past month.

On 17 April, NIFRS West posted the following comments on Facebook. “Thanks to the volunteers of Sky Watch NI for providing aerial images of a large wildland fire outside Omagh yesterday. The fire had at its height a 4km long fire front and threatened domestic and industrial properties. These live images were invaluable to allow us to model the course of the fire, protect property and extinguish the blaze.”

As a result of several years’ experience working with NIFRS during wildland fire season at locations all over Northern Ireland, Sky Watch NI have become a valued and trusted resource, able to supply accurate and up to date information by using drones to provide an aerial perspective and track a fire’s progress.

On arrival, NIFRS issued the team with face masks to protect from the smoke and, where possible, social distancing was in place, due to the threat from a new risk we now have to consider in all aspects of our daily lives, Covid-19.

Initially, a commercial waste recycling centre and a concrete and quarry products site were under threat, causing NIFRS to position their appliances on the long access driveway, to prevent the fire from reaching them. However, the wind direction frequently changed and the fire progressed towards Barony Road, where it was in danger of jumping to scatted small holdings and dwellings on the opposite side. The intensity of the smoke eventually led to the road closure, with Sky Watch personnel assisting in slowing down and turning around traffic until the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) had a suitable diversion in place.

At its height, the fire front was four km long. NIFRS had seven fire appliances, a water tanker, a high volume pump and fifty six firefighters on site. With two drone teams available, Sky Watch NI was able to provide NIFRS with an initial overview of the scene, before concentrating on areas of concern, allowing NIFRS to utilise their resources to best effect. Many short drone flights from several different locations, provided up to the minute information on wind direction and the speed the fire was progressing, allowing firefighters to be tasked appropriately.

After six hours on site, the fire had started to die down and, with daylight beginning to fade, the team left at 20.30 as NIFRS began their withdrawal for the night, leaving two fire appliances to keep a watching brief.