Coillte has called on people to be alert to the dangers of fires when visiting forests this year.

The State-owned forest company operates an open forest policy and there are millions of visits to Coillte woods every year.

The company lost 400 hectares of forest to wild fires in 2018 at a cost of €4m. Most of the fires happened during the dry hot summer.

Speaking at a demonstration of fire fighting methods at Avondale Forest Park in Co Wicklow, Coillte National Estates Risk Manager Mick Power said that a forest takes 40 years to replace. 

"A forest is a very valuable item and takes 40 years to grow. It is not like a field of barley or a field of wheat where you can replace it in 12 months. A forest takes 40 years to replace so if you lose it halfway through a rotation, that's a major financial loss," he said.

While visitors to Coillte forests are welcome, the company is calling on people to report any fires or smoke they see.

They also warn people not to light camp fires in a forest, as this caused many of the fires last year.

Wicklow County Fire Service was also demonstrating fire fighting techniques at Avondale today and Chief Fire Officer Aidan Dempsey said 2018 was an exceptional year.

He has served six years with Wicklow Fire Service and normally they would be dealing with 20-30 outdoor fires over a summer, but last year it was more than 400.

He said many fires were started accidentally by people lighting barbecues in the countryside or discarding cigarette butts. He called on people to cooperate with the fire services.

Mr Dempsey said people should not place barbecues on the ground, but on concrete or metal surfaces provided by Coillte and other organisations.

He said they should not discard cigarette butts or use naked flames or light campfires.