GORSE fires have wreaked havoc across south and west Kerry with one Waterville pensioner losing his life, believed to have been overcome by smoke inhalation.
Found dead on his own farmland on Thursday afternoon, 80-year-old bachelor Michael O'Shea, Derrinden, Mastergeehy, was believed to have been lighting gorse when the incident happened.
Meanwhile, Dingle Community Hospital was put on evacuation alert last Friday because of fears that the building would be engulfed in smoke from a gorse fire.
Controlled gorse fires are legal until March 1 once the gardai have been notified. However, with the problem with many of the weekend's fires was that they raged out of control.
The fire was started on Cnoc a'Charn which overlooks the town and created huge volumes of smoke which covered parts of the town all through the afternoon.
The local fire service unit and two units from Tralee were tasked to tackle the blaze because of its proximity to the hospital.
"The hospital was on stand-by for evacuation because of the smoke and the threat of the fire itself to the patients and the building. There were at least 15 fire personnel involved in bringing the fire under control. We were lucky that the fire didn't cross the New Line, the roadway that runs along the shoulder of the hill. This kind of fire is undesirable to say the least. The people who set these fires should check the wind direction first and have consideration for built-up areas," Dingle Fire Chief Jim Bambury told The Kerryman.
The fire, which scorched electricity supply poles on the hill, was brought under control after four hours.
The Dingle fire unit and a unit from Tralee spent four hours bringing another gorse fire under control in Lispole on Sunday.
Further south in Caherdaniel and Castlecove, fire crews from Cahersiveen, Sneem and Kenmare were called out to fight gorse fires on successive days with the worst incident occurring around 2.30pm on Friday afternoon. Up to a dozen residences were under serious threat and local fire services say the situation was exacerbated by the high proportion of holiday homes in the area.
"This means we receive little help in trying to stave off the flames which came worryingly close to the local houses," a local fire service spokesperson stated.
"The problem really is with the oil tanks, stacked wood and wooden fascia boards which could easily catch light. We also had a lot of elderly people contacting us. It is causing them huge stress as the flames glow and they feel the fire is closer than it actually is."
While fire crews were also called to incidents uncontrolled fires at The Glen and Waterville, local crews say they are grateful for the extensive local effort following a call-out to the Bolus area at 12.30am on February 13.
"This was a difficult one lasting throughout the night but we had up to a dozen locals assisting us and we are extremely grateful,' the spokesperson added.