Monday 20 November 2017

Garda probe as 'catastrophic' gorse fire kills trapped wildlife

The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: John Dela
The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: John Dela
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

An investigation is under way into the cause of a huge gorse fire that raged for almost 24 hours on the Cork-Kerry border and threatened an entire forest park.

The fire - which erupted on Saturday night and Sunday morning - inflicted what locals described as "catastrophic damage" on wildlife in the Gougane Barra area.

Hundreds of creatures ranging from rabbits to foxes, hares, hedgehogs, badgers and stoats were unable to escape and perished. A huge number of ground-nesting birds also had their chicks killed by the blaze.

The fire burned into remote mountainous areas of Cork and Kerry - and it took the desperate efforts of six units of Cork fire brigade from Macroom, Bantry, Dunmanway, Skibbereen and Ballincollig to limit its further spread.

The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: Provision
The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: Provision

The efforts were made exceptionally difficult by the remote nature of the terrain involved.

By lunchtime yesterday, the blaze had been contained, though it was still burning in inaccessible higher regions of the mountain.

At one point, the spread of the blaze threatened an entire 350-acre forest park and a remote farmhouse.

On Sunday, the flames from the mountain blaze dominated the skies above the Gougane Barra Hotel, one of the most popular wedding venues in the south.

The mountains which dominate the hotel and the famous sixth-century island monastery of St Finbarr were left blackened yesterday as fire brigade officials continued damping-down operations on the hillsides.

Hotelier Neil Lucey said locals could hear animals crying out as the fire spread.

The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: Provision
The wildfire rages around the iconic church at Gougane Barra and was still burning yesterday afternoon, leaving sheep to flee the smouldering bushes. Photo: Provision

"You could just hear animals in the valley. Sheep, lambs in the valley as well," he said.

But he said they were totally baffled over how the huge fire started and burned thousands of acres.

"The areas involved are large tracts of mountainside," he said. "Any clever individual here would never dare to put a match to it because it will burn for acres and acres."

An investigation is now under way to determine the precise cause of the outbreak.

Cork fire brigade officials and the gardaí have urged people to exercise maximum caution when on hillsides given the speed and ferocity with which gorse burns. Two other major gorse fires have erupted in Ireland over the past three weeks.

Irish Independent

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