Neighbours rush to help farmer fight raging blaze cause by spontaneous fire

A fire rages on land in the Slive Bloom mountains.
A fire rages on land in the Slive Bloom mountains.

The tinder-dry conditions in the current heatwave are putting farms and forests at serious risk of devastating fires, farmers and landowners are being warned, after three major infernos took hold in the county over the past week.

Even a mirror on a windowsill could spark a blaze, experts have warned.

Up to 40 people from a Co. Limerick community fought valiantly to extinguish a farm fire which is understood to have sparked off as a result of the sweltering heat.

Thick plumes of smoke which reached 300 feet into the sky could be seen for miles around and prompted residents of nearby parishes to travel to the farm of Kieran Lillis in Meanus on Sunday morning to do what they could to extinguish the raging blaze which started on a hedge.

Three units of the fire brigade from Kilmallock, two units from Rathkeale and one unit from Limerick assisted by locals fought the raging blaze which took almost seven hours to get under control.

On Monday night, three appliances from the city and two from Cappamore rushed to the scene of a tyre fire at Raheen, Ballyneety which took almost four hours to bring under control.

And the Irish Air Corps was called in early on Friday morning to assist 30 fire fighters from Limerick and neighbouring counties to tackle an extensive gorse fire near Anglesboro.

Each of the fires are understood to have started as a result of the record-breaking temperatures. Farmers in particular are being advised to be extra mindful of hedgerows and ditches where glass and the breeze can come together to cause spontaneous fires.

“We have been exceptionally busy. Every fire brigade station is flat out quenching fires at the moment. We have been out regularly over the last few days - all over the county attending to gorse fires, dry grass fires and land bog fires,” explained a local officer at Kilmallock Fire Station.

“People often jump to the old theory that someone has thrown the butt of a cigarette out but some of the fires we have attended, you couldn’t possibly throw a butt there. There are other ways - glass can magnify the heat, like an old glass bottle or a jar. We tell people not to leave mirrors on window sills at home in times of heat like this because the heat could set fire to your blanket or something like that. Old dry grass can take off. We would remind people not to assume that others have called the fire brigade if they see a fire. Call 999 to make sure,” he added.

The swift action of locals and the fire service coupled with the help from local contractors prevented an almost certain disaster at the Lillis farm on Sunday.

“I’m relieved that no one got hurt but gutted for the last month of hard work that’s gone into it,” said Kieran Lillis.

Bales of Haylage Ignited

Early Sunday morning a ditch caught fire adjacent to this year’s harvest - bales of haylage ignited and with tyres and plastic nearby the fire quickly spread.

“When we got into the jeep and up to the farmyard it was about 300 feet in the air at that stage. I knew we were in trouble, that we couldn’t stop it ,” said Kieran who became aware of the blaze after a friend called to his door at approximately 6.45am on Sunday.

“I rang the fire brigade and they arrived. And they did a good job but the volume of water they were carrying wasn’t going to sort it so the boys starting drawing water - they brought nine rounds of 7,500 gallons of water. The fire brigade actually had pumps in the river trying to fill their trucks. We had to tear out bales from behind the pit. The tyres were all up on fire and the pit was on fire.

“There was a friend of mine living in Bruff and another friend of mine living in Fedamore and they arrived. We could do nothing at that stage. We dropped a load of bales. We went and got the track machine and the we got the digger up and ready.

“Another friend of mine rang to know what was gone wrong and I said we are just gone out of control. It had gone onto my silage pit and the haylage. If the pit is contaminated and with what it cost to put it in and what it cost to grow I would say the cost is the bones of €20,000. If the pit is not contaminated, you are talking about half of that, €10,000,” said Kieran.

The wind was blowing across the back of the farm and fortunately the flames didn’t get near the farm house.

“As my father said, as least he had a house to come home to last night. He is 80 years of age and that’s his home farm as well. He’s not too bad today - he’s the same as myself, gutted and relieved that no one got hurt. We have sore bones and muscles and everything today,” said Kieran.

His wife Deirdre and two young sons witnessed the whole episode. At the height of the fire there were up to 40 people on the farm ranging in ages from their teens up to their 70s.

“My heart was in my mouth with the smoke and everything. Thanks to the fire brigade they kept people back when we were working with the machine. There were people working on different areas - trying to pull off tyres. Yesterday evening we just went around thanking everyone,” said an emotional Kieran who paid tribute to all those who came to their assistance including Denis and Tom Renihan and Pete Wrenn of Kilpeacon Agricultural Contractors who also arrived with vacuum tanks of water to help fight the fire, the fire service, a local bar who provided cool drinks and all those that arrived with sandwiches and refreshments.

Cllr Richard O’Donoghue, a life-long friend of Kieran Lillis and his family, was at the scene on Sunday.

“In this case the Lillis family were lucky that the local community rallied around to save them from devastation.”

Online Editors