Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Watch: Raging Galway forest blaze 'sparked from deliberately-set gorse fire' - authorities

John Fallon

Efforts are continuing to bring a fire at one of the biggest forests in the country under control in Co Galway.

Officials from Coillte and fire crews monitored the massive forest and bogland fire across a vast expanse of Connemara throughout the night.

Coillte staff and fire services have been on site since 5.30am and civilian and army corps helicopters have been carrying out water drops since early this morning.

Army personnel have been mobilised to assist in brashing, as the focus of this morning’s activity is to control the fires on a number of fronts including fire events in the proximity of the 169MW Galway Wind Park construction site.

Gardai in Galway have asked members of the public to refrain from entering the Cloosh Valley area.  It has said persons and vehicles entering the area are posing difficulty for the Emergency Services.

In particular the Seanafeastin Road should be avoided except for Emergency vehicles and local residents as it is dangerous to enter and there is a possibility of becoming trapped.

Sean Kelly fights the blaze in the Cloosh Valley in Connemara, Co Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes
Sean Kelly fights the blaze in the Cloosh Valley in Connemara, Co Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes

Over 1,500 hectares of forestry and 2,000 hectares of bog land have been destroyed in the fire to date.

While the cause of the fire at Cloosh Valley has yet to be definitively established, Coillte says that it is believed that the fire originated from deliberately set gorse fires, which subsequently spread onto Coillte owned forestry and the Galway Wind Park site.

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Fire crews, who were aided by local farmers in addition to Coillte officials and two Aer Corps helicopters, managed to get a substantial part of the fire on the 4,000-hectare forest under control yesterday.

But a combination of swirling winds, tinder-dry vegetation and warm temperatures combined to see the fire go out of control again by yesterday evening.

By then tens of thousands of litres of water had been doused on the wildfire by a Coillte aircraft and the two Aer Corps helicopters, which dropped 1,200 litres of water at a time from their Bambi-buckets.

Plumes of smoke could be seen in a vast area from Oughterard to Spiddal, while the increasingly strong winds resulted in the smoke drifting 30km away to Galway city and Salthill by late yesterday evening, blocking out the evening sunshine in a cloud of dense smog.

Earlier in the afternoon, the smoke was blowing in the opposite direction, westward and south to Roundstone and Ballyconneely. The damage has been estimated by Coillte at millions of euro and it will take years to replace.

Many of the trees destroyed were 20 years old.

The main priority for fire fighters last night was to ensure that the fire did not spread to houses and other dwellings in areas such as Seanafeistin and Costello.

Kevin Tracey of Galway Fire Service said pockets of the fire kept breaking out during the day.

"The wind direction kept changing so all we could do was stop it at the roads, stop it crossing and getting to houses and property," he said.

Farmers and other bog-owners joined in the battle to put out the fire, surveying the damage.

"It's a huge danger to wildlife and other animals and you'd hate to think of them being hurt," said Costello resident Seamus MacDonnacha.

Sheep wandering the road is a familiar site throughout Connemara, with their fleeces making them particularly vulnerable.

"They tend to know how to stay ahead of the fire but you'd fear other animals mightn't be as lucky," he added.

The forest had provided plenty of employment over the years and Oughterard resident Seamus Geoghegan, who found work in the Cloosh Valley forest when he returned from England, lamented the loss of the trees he had helped plant.

"It's heart-breaking to see the trees gone like that after years planting them," he remarked.

Micheal Lynch from Leitir Mor said: "It's destroyed, gone, millions of euros worth of trees gone."

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