Farmer's brave battle against blaze as 120 cattle burnt alive
A FARMER who lost up to 120 of his cattle in a massive farm fire yesterday thanked his local community after they helped him battle the blaze.
John Hollingsworth from Coolanearl, Redcross, Co Wicklow, had just brought his animals in off the land for winter housing at the weekend when a massive fire gutted four sheds where the cattle were being housed.
The damage from the blaze, which lasted for several hours, is expected to cost him hundreds of thousands of euro.
No cause has yet been established for the blaze, which occurred just over 6km from Arklow.
But despite the huge loss, the father of three, who has managed the farm since his father died 28 years ago, remained optimistic about the future.
"I'd say there were around 50 farmers in total helping me out with the fire," said Mr Hollingsworth (44), whose wife also works full-time on the land. "They were out again this morning, helping me feed the other cattle I have.
"You can't beat your neighbours, if you haven't them you're a lot worse off. I had around 450 cattle altogether so I still have a farm left to work on. It could have been worse -- there could have been people trapped in it."
The local farmers used their tractors and slurry spreaders to help the two units from Arklow fire brigade battle the blaze. They also succeeded in rescuing a small number of the animals, which were a mixture of cows, fatteners and young calves.
The alarm was raised shortly after 9.30pm on Saturday by Paudie Murphy whose farm overlooks the scene of the blaze.
Mr Murphy was doing yard work when he noticed smoke and rang Abie Waldron, who works for Mr Hollingsworth.
"When I arrived down at the farm, the fire was just massive," Mr Hollingsworth added. "Abie and myself rescued about six cattle from the fire, but then we were beaten back by the dense smoke.
"I had just brought the cattle in off the land to house them for the winter days before this fire. Every farmer loves his animals and it is just heartbreaking to see so many animals burnt alive in a fire.
"The scene after the fire is just awful and the vet is here now seeing if he can save the cattle with severe burns, and breathing problems from smoke inhalation."
Firefighters from Arklow remained at the scene throughout the night until 10am yesterday, while gardai stayed at the site last night to preserve the scene for forensic examination, set to take place today.
As a contractor erecting sheds and slatted units as well as being a beef and suckler farmer, Mr Hollingsworth would have done work for many of his neighbours.
He is now waiting to hear what caused the fire, and whether his insurance will cover the huge cost of the blaze.
Arklow fire chief John Connolly said it was the worst fire he had attended in the last six years. "Flames were shooting up in the sky when we arrived and it had too much of a hold to save the hay and straw.
"Sparks spread the fire to the units housing the cattle which died from a combination of incineration and smoke.
"There was no way we would be able to extinguish the fire in the hay, we had to let it burn itself out. But we did save one large shed," Mr Connolly added.