Mayo, Ireland — Over 1 million worth of damage is estimated to have been caused to over 1,000 acres of Coillte and privately-owned forestry in Glenamoy, which was burnt in one of the worst forest and gorse fires to hit Mayo, last week.
The fire, which raged from Monday afternoon to Thursday evening when it was finally brought under control, left a black scar on the Erris landscape, destroying thousands of acres of forest land in the process. Mr Gerry Gavin, Coillte District Manager, explained that it was too early to assess the cost of the damage but The Mayo News has since learned that it will cost close to 1,000 an acre to replant and overall costs could run to more than 1 million.
The Coillte forest has been growing in Glenamoy for over 30 years, and it is believed that close to 30 hectares of mature plantations were burnt in the fire. Up to 150 acres of young plantations and 100 acres of recently-felled trees were also burnt, along with close to 300 acres of privately-owned forestry.
Mr Gavin said that this was the worst forest fire he had experienced in Mayo and the biggest to hit the country in the last decade. He told The Mayo News that with the fire aided by a 35mph wind, it was nearly impossible to extinguish.
We might have a large forest fire every ten years but this was one of the most serious outbreaks in the country. A normal forest fire would burn around four to five hectares before being brought under control. But with the place being so dry and with a 35mph breeze behind it blowing into the plantation, it was nearly an impossible situation to extinguish.
It was out of control but we had to try and confine it and stop it going onto the hills. All [Coillte] staff were on call and, with the use of a helicopter which dumped water on the hotspots, it was brought under control. We have not assessed the damage yet and I cannot say how much damage was caused until we do that, he said.
The fire first ignited on Monday afternoon last at approximately 3.30pm in the townland of Cregganmore, Glenamoy before quickly spreading and engulfing the forest land. The Belmullet fire brigade were the first on the scene on Monday afternoon but were quickly joined by units from Crossmolina and Ballina.
The fire raged through the night and quickly spread through the forest to the townlands of Gorthleatilla and Baralty. At one stage, some families in Baralty had to be escorted from their homes by the fire brigade after homes became engulfed in smoke and the fire got close to houses.
The fire service worked 24-hour shifts and were joined by Coillte workers and locals in tackling the fire. A helicopter came from Sligo and dumped water on the fire from the air, and by ten oclock on Thursday evening it had been brought under control.
Mr Seamus Murphy, Chief Fire Officer with Mayo County Council, said it was unusual for a fire to last for that length of time but the difficult terrain and the dry foliage meant it was nearly impossible to extinguish the fire. He said the air support from the helicopter was the only way to extinguish the fire and the best they could do was to contain it by creating fire breaks.
He praised the work of the fire brigade and the volunteers for ensuring there was no immediate threat to houses. The source of the fire started near the road side, which has led many to believe that it was caused by a discarded cigarette and Mr Murphy called on people to be extra vigilant when handling cigarettes or other flammable material.
I have no idea how it started but all I will say is for people who are in areas like this to display extreme caution if they have cigarettes or anything else that can burn. This time of year we get a number of gorse fires but nothing like this. It just shows that a small thing can start and grow into something a lot bigger, he said.