Forest fires continue to sweep through Donegal, Mayo and Galway

Forest fires continue to sweep through Donegal, Mayo and Galway

02 May 2011

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Ireland — The AIR Corps and Army were continuing to work with fire services and civilian volunteers last night as gorse and forest fires swept through thousands of acres in Donegal, Mayo and Galway.

Three Air Corps helicopters and more than 50 troops with specialist firefighting equipment were deployed yesterday in the west and northwest.

Two of the Air Corps AW139 helicopters were fitted with “Bambi” underslung buckets to drop 1,200 litres of water at a time from the air, while Coillte also used a similar technique to help ground fire teams in north Mayo.

Local fire services in the midlands tackled bog and forest blazes in parts of Offaly, on the Longford-Westmeath border near Lismacaffrey, while the PSNI reported that a number of areas in the Mourne mountains in Co Down were also affected.

Coillte, the State forestry company, confirmed last night fires affecting forestry in north Mayo and west Galway were “under control”.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter paid tribute to the Defence Forces and “all those personnel involved” in the efforts.

Fianna Fáil North-West MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher has called on Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to visit affected areas, and to initiate an investigation into the cause of the worse incidents, in Donegal, which are believed to have been started deliberately some time on Saturday.

Mr Gallagher was critical of the delay in deploying the Defence Forces to assist exhausted firefighters, who had spent much of Saturday night and yesterday trying to protect homes from a 16km (10-mile) long blaze covering thousands of acres across mountains and bogs linking Doochary, Lettermacaward and Dungloe in west Donegal.

Other forest fires were also being tackled at the Knather, Ballyshannon, and in the Fanad and Inishowen peninsulas, according to Donegal fire chief Bobby McMenamin.

Up to 100 firemen were deployed in Donegal from mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Ten fire units were still fighting the blaze yesterday and the main road between Dungloe and Lettermacaward was closed, as flames crossed the route.

Nobody was reported to be injured but a number of homes were evacuated.

In Galway, fire crews worked over the weekend to extinguish a gorse fire near Recess in the Inagh Valley, which reignited on Saturday night. A brisk east to north-easterly wind fanned flames in both Galway and in separate blazes across the county border in the Pontoon-Foxford area of Mayo.

The R310 regional road between Castlebar and Ballina was closed for most of yesterday because of low visibility caused by dense smoke and sparks and flames shooting across the road from burning undergrowth.

Mayo chief fire officer Séamus Murphy said yesterday that units from across the county were being rotated to fight the outbreak.

The main strategy was to protect houses and forestry, Mr Murphy said, explaining that flames were 6m (20ft) high in places and it had been “quite scary” for some householders.

A Coillte helicopter which replenished itself in one of the many small lakes in the fire-affected area north of Castlebar, concentrated on preventing the flames from engulfing valuable forestry plantations.

A Coillte spokesman said that the fire in Recess was extinguished finally yesterday evening, and the Pontoon situation was “under control”.

Met Éireann has said that exceptionally dry weather has meant that only 10-20 per cent of average rainfall has been recorded over the past fortnight in parts of the west.

Mr Gallagher paid tribute to local authority firefighters and those civilians who had also assisted, but said that he believed there was no overall emergency response plan in place to ensure that the Defence Forces were deployed “without delay”.

The Fianna Fáil MEP said a package should be put in place to assist farmers and families whose property had been affected, and he said he was calling on Mr Coveney to view the extent of the damage first-hand.

The PSNI and fire services in the North have warned hill-walkers and holidaymakers to avoid the Mourne Mountains area of Co Down over the coming days as they tackle a series of blazes.

Firefighters reported seeing 12mflames at the height of the emergency.

DUP South Down Assembly candidate Jim Wells said he visited fire and rescue and ambulance staff dealing with a large gorse fire and said anyone found guilty of arson should face a custodial sentence.

He said fire service staff from the nearby Newcastle station in Co Down had dealt with 120 fire call-outs in the last week.

“This problem has increased significantly in recent years and action must be taken to deal with the rapidly deteriorating situation,” he added.

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