Thursday 19 September 2019

Homes threatened by gorse fire as Air Corps and Army combat 'vast' blaze

Minister faces criticism over 'water bomber' delay

Firefighters attempt to contain the huge blaze that has consumed hundreds of acres of gorse moor in Donegal. Photo: Pacemaker Belfast
Firefighters attempt to contain the huge blaze that has consumed hundreds of acres of gorse moor in Donegal. Photo: Pacemaker Belfast

Stephen Maguire, Allison Bray and Pat Flynn

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 yesterday 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 a helicopter to douse the area with water allowing them to escape.

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," he said.

"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.

"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 yesterday'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 said yesterday afternoon.

Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, Gary Martin, director of emergency services at Donegal County Council, said the main fires had been brought under control shortly after 8pm.

"The biggest threat was in an area close to Kincasslagh. There are still small, occasional fires here and there but nothing major. The major event is under control and the majority of fire appliances have now been stood down.

"There was one property substantially damaged in the Kincasslagh area. The fire has largely destroyed the roof space and the back wall."

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

A nationwide Condition Orange High Fire Risk warning remains in place until midday today.

Irish Independent

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