Claim of seven-hour delay in mobilising Aer Corp helicopters to fight the Donegal gorse fires

Firefighters attempt to contain the huge blaze that has consumed hundreds of acres of gorse moor in Donegal. Photo: Pacemaker Belfast
Firefighters attempt to contain the huge blaze that has consumed hundreds of acres of gorse moor in Donegal. Photo: Pacemaker Belfast

Calls have been made for a full written report a claim of a seven-hour delay in mobilising the Aer Corp helicopters to fight the West Donegal gorse fires.

Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal and Leas Cheann Comhairle Pat the Cope Gallagher said the delay in mobilising the helicopter certainly left the entire situation very dangerous, and potentially threatening to numerous properties and indeed life in the areas of the fires.

 “The efforts of Donegal Fire Service have to be publicly acknowledged along with the massive number of local volunteers who fought the fire for hours, and the numerous farmers who provided slurry tanks for quenching the fires. A private helicopter was also on site from earlier in the afternoon which was arranged by Donegal County Council.

"When the Aer Corp helicopter did arrive, it played a significant role in controlling the fire. But, the issue here is why it took a full 7 hours to get the helicopter cover, which was so badly needed earlier in order to control this raging inferno that threatened property and life in West Donegal.

TWO houses where destroyed in a massive gorse fire in Co Donegal on Friday.
The fires started again on Monday and are spreading in the Annnagry direction, with a number of roads closed.Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
TWO houses where destroyed in a massive gorse fire in Co Donegal on Friday. The fires started again on Monday and are spreading in the Annnagry direction, with a number of roads closed.Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

“The initial alarm and emergency call for Aer Corp assistance was made by Donegal County Council at 9.30 am, that was followed shortly afterwards by myself contacting the Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe.

“What is devastating for all of us involved in this sequence of events is that it took 7 hours to get the helicopter on site.

"Critical and crucial time was lost whereby the fire could have been better managed had the numerous firefighters and local volunteers got the Aer Corp support," he claimed.

Firefighters and locals in Co Donegal fear further dry weather will spark more gorse fires which scorched hundreds of acres of land and threatened local homes and a hotel.

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Up to 15 fire tenders supported by the Army, the Air Corps and hundreds of locals battled from 6am yesterday when the blaze started in the village of Annagry. The fire quickly spread towards the neighbouring villages of Loughanure and Belcruit and towards Dungloe.

At one stage, a fire crew became surrounded by the flames in Belcruit and had to wait for a helicopter to douse the area with water allowing them to escape.

Gorse Fires start again around the Mountains in the Loch an Iir area of Donegal. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Gorse Fires start again around the Mountains in the Loch an Iir area of Donegal. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe ordered an Air Corps helicopter and 36 army personnel from the nearby Finner Camp to the scene of the fire at around 1pm. But the AW139 'water bomber' helicopter did not leave Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin for several hours and did not arrive on the scene until late in the afternoon.

 There is still no indication how the latest fires started, although the unseasonably warm dry weather is believed to be a factor.

But at the height of yesterday's fires - which were burning out of control directly behind several houses and the Caisleáin Óir Hotel in Annagry - local county councillor Michael Mac Giolla Easbuig described the situation as harrowing as he and other volunteers battled the blaze.

"There are fires everywhere. There are hundreds of people on site. It's unbelievable. We're waiting for the Army but there's property being damaged. We are talking about a vast, vast area," he said yesterday afternoon.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Gary Martin, director of emergency services at Donegal County Council, said the main fires had been brought under control shortly after 8pm.

"The biggest threat was in an area close to Kincasslagh. There are still small, occasional fires here and there but nothing major. The major event is under control and the majority of fire appliances have now been stood down.

"There was one property substantially damaged in the Kincasslagh area. The fire has largely destroyed the roof space and the back wall."

Meanwhile, fire crews from Scarriff and Killaloe battled a large bog and forest fire burning on a mountain in east Clare yesterday after battling fires at Flagmount on Saturday and Sunday, which may have been intentionally set.

A nationwide Condition Orange High Fire Risk warning remains in place until midday today.

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