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Saturday 15 June 2019

'This could have ended in tragedy' - beach fire that forced evacuation of hundreds of holidaymakers may have been caused by barbecue

Holidaymakers were forced to evacuate due to a fire at Curracloe beach
Holidaymakers were forced to evacuate due to a fire at Curracloe beach
Holidaymakers have been evacuated Photo: Wexford Civil Defence

Kathy Armstrong and Amy Molloy

A fire that forced hundreds of holidaymakers to evacuate a popular beach could have ended in "tragedy" may have been sparked by a barbecue, Defence Minister Paul Kehoe has said.

The alarm was raised about the blaze in the sand dunes at Wexford's Curracloe beach shortly after 11.30am on Sunday morning.

The beach was evacuated, traffic was diverted and people were urged to avoid the area while the emergency services tackled the blaze.

Minister Kehoe said that a barbecue may have caused the fire.

The Wexford TD told "I was at the scene between 5pm and 9pm this evening, Wexford fire crew had been called to the area initially and then they called for back up from other fire stations, gardai and the air corps were also there and they managed to get it under control.

"I heard that it may have caused by a barbecue, if this is true I hope gardai do investigate as that is just completely irresponsible.

"The sand dunes are popular with people who are camping and there is some suggestion that there may have been a party and someone was using a barbecue.

"This is so dangerous and we have been warned so much over the past few weeks about the risk of fire - we haven't had any rain in the south-east in eight weeks so the land was dry as a bone and as we saw today the fire spread rapidly."

Emergency services are tackling the blaze
Emergency services are tackling the blaze

The Fine Gael Deputy said that he is relieved that there was no loss of life following the blaze.

"Raven's Point is a woodland is a forest trail near the beach that would be particularly busy on a Sunday with walkers, if the wind had been going the other way it could have spread there.

"The area was also busy with people on the beach and those camping and staying in holiday homes nearby, this could have been detrimental, an absolute tragedy, we're lucky."

He also praised those who worked together to tackle the fire.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe. Photo: Tom Burke
Defence Minister Paul Kehoe. Photo: Tom Burke

Minister Kehoe said: "The emergency workers showed once again what real heroes they are, I would like to commend members of the Wexford Fire Brigade, especially its chief Fire Officer Paul L’Estrange, members of An Garda Siochana , the ambulance service and of course the Air Corps for their efforts in bringing this situation under control.

"I would also like to thank the local farmers who came with tankers of waters to help, it was great to see everyone working together."

The Surf Shack in Curracloe said all surf lessons have been called off for the rest of the day, as owner Jack-Tim Murphy described the scene of the emergency.

Speaking on Beat 102-103, he said: "We are located right on the beach and we had surf lessons going on this morning, at half-eleven we saw a bit of smoke from the sand dunes and I phoned it in straight away to the fire brigade.

"About forty minutes later they were on scene and the flames had got completely out of control and we could see eight to 10 foot flames from the Surf Shack, it spread very quickly over a five to ten acre area which is all completely blackened now but they seem to have it under control now.

"The whole beach has been evacuated but there was maybe 800 people on the beach and around 200 to 250 cars and they evacuated them within about half an hour, they were very quick on the evacuation."

The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Curracloe beach was a filming location for the award-winning movie Saving Private Ryan and Mr Murphy remarked that it looks similar today after the blaze.

"It looks like a scene from Saving Private Ryan, it looks like a scene a war movie down here, its' just smoke and you can't see 20 feet in front of you, it's just smoke covering the beach and all the buildings," he said.

In June 1997, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and a host of other actors and crew, arrived to film scenes for the Hollywood war epic.

The filming lasted two months, with the Irish Defence Forces supplying 2,500 men to act as extras.

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