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Dramatic Golden Hour Peat Wild Fire Near Rasharkin - July 4th 2018

July 4th 2018, we are still in the middle of a heat wave with more warm or even hot weather expected for at least another week, earlier in the day there were reports of a gorse fire on the back roads near Lough Fea, police and fire crews had to close roads for a period as smoke was causing havoc with visibility for drivers. Meanwhile I was in Maghera working on a website image report for the June 27th major gorse fire event on Glenshane Pass (report), I had literally typed the last word of the last sentence and pressed save when I got a pm from Conor McDonald, he wanted to know if I fancied a meet up for a chat and maybe an evening walk for fresh air, sounded good to me, arrangements were made and five minutes later Conor was at my door. We got in the car and looked to the right and got a shock, there was a massive gorse fire burning far away to the east, we couldn't believe it, it was obvious from here that it was a big fire, the row of massive smoke plumes looked like a flanking line on a multicell thunderstorm, the Nly breeze was blowing the smoke for many miles across the land, in fact, it was covering the entire eastern skyline. We grabbed the camera gear, drone, left Maghera and began driving east, we weren't certain exactly where the fire was located, it looked like the general Ballymoney area, however this was just a guess, so we drove in that general direction anyway, the evening heat was warm and the sun intense, it seemed like every day was simply stunning.

We rounded a bend on the back road, met another car which was too far over and Conor had take evasive action, the left side of the car briefly clipped the grass bank, there was a sudden popping sound and we came to a halt, the tire had burst instantly, we had to react fast, jack out, spare tire retrieved, and after some sweating in the heat the wheel was changed and we where ready to go. A quick check online revealed that the fire was in the Rasharkin area close to peat land. We hit the road, passed through Kilrea, and once we entered open countryside we spotted the fire, it was large and composed of two main sources, smoke rose high into the sky, some parts of the skyline were blocked by smoke, we took a side road and ended up on location overlooking a large area of peat and moss land, there where cars on the scene, many had arrived to spectate, I asked around and nobody seemed to know how it started, however the consensus was it was clearly deliberate.

Conor and I found a field away from people which offered decent line of sight and I prepped the drone. Weather conditions were perfect, I did a health check of battery, checked signal strength and GPS fix, then took off vertically above the trees, the white Phantom soared aloft into the blue sky, Conor was my spotter, all ready, I yawed the drone until it faced the fire and slowly flew out for a look. The view was dramatic, I had two fires in my sights, I chose the left fire as it looked much more extreme, I filmed then hovered for a few stills, then continued filming once again. Drone altitude here was 73m, you can see machinery below and several tractors with trailers below the smoke, there seemed to be a lot of activity going on, 4x4s, tractors, cars, I assumed the owners of the peat stacks were gathering their stock and moving the bags and crates away from the danger area.

Right stick forward and I encouraged the drone to slowly approach the fire for a closer look, the view at this stage was absolutely spectacular, the low sun was shining through the wall of smoke casting its golden hour light through the smoke, the filtered colour made the scene look ferocious, I was quite awestruck when I witnessed this moment live on the screen, what made it even more dramatic was the motion, the smoke on the left was ascending while the smoke at ground level below was blowing across like a fog of smoke, it looked very 3 dimensional and gave me the sensation of being inside a cube of stirring smoke. Make sure to watch the video below, the light, contrast and the motion all needs to be seen to be believed.

Yawning the drone 90 degrees to the left, altitude now 120m, such an incredible sight. My battery was getting low so I brought the Phantom back, cleared the trees, and hand caught the drone, removed the props, and all was packed away in the case within five minutes, what a success this had been.

We headed back home again along the country roads, smoke in our nostrils and sun blazing outside on yet another unforgettable Summer's evening, we spotted the fire in the distance and decided to pull over for once last look, here's a 400mm still, then back home. The entire adventure had been completely unexpected and with more hot weather to come I suspect there will be more fires in the near future.

Drone footage of the peat fire at golden hour best watched at 1080p HD opened to full size in a new window, thanks very much for viewing the images and video and for reading the report.



Martin McKenna

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