Wednesday 22 May 2019

Fear of further devastating gorse fires after dry spell

Gorse fires continue to rage in west Donegal
Gorse fires continue to rage in west Donegal

Stephen Maguire and Allison Bray

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.

Up to 15 fire tenders supported by the Army, the Air Corps and hundreds of locals battled from 6am on Monday 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 support from a helicopter which doused the area with water allowing them to get a route out.

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.

Local TD Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher said he called on the minister to mobilise the Air Corps hours earlier and was critical of how long it took for the helicopter to arrive.

“The minister has just called me to confirm the approval has been given for a helicopter to travel to Annagry and that army personnel are also being sent to assist Donegal.

“Myself and Donegal County Council requested the minister to send up the Air Corps four hours ago and they have only mobilised them a short time ago and I am very disappointed that it took so long,” he said.

“We cannot delay this any longer as these fires are out of control. We must stop this fire as it spreads towards homes.”

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 today’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 told the Irish Independent yesterday afternoon.

By last night the fires were said to be under control, although hot spots remained.

Donegal County Council hired a private company to bring in a helicopter to spread water over the flames after two homes were destroyed in Annagry on Good Friday.

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

A large fire that could be seen from Co Tipperary was burning on a mountain at Woodfield on Sunday night. Fire crews battled the blazes throughout the night and into this morning, hampered by strong winds and gusts.

A nationwide Condition Orange High Fire Risk warning remains in place until midday tomorrow (Tuesday).

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