Gorse fires in the Ox Mountains in Co Sligo
© Irish Air Corps
Gorse fires in the Ox Mountains in Co Sligo.

Homes in danger of being destroyed if winds change, Coilte chief warns

Fire services are battling over 30 wild fires across the country, with farms and homes in danger of being destroyed.

A huge wild fire in Co Galway, which has a front expanse of 5km, is within 4.5km of houses as Coillte and emergency services battle to bring it under control.

More than 50 people are battling to get the fire under control and are fighting it on three fronts with two under control. However, one front is still burning significantly and the fire is approximately within 4.5km of people's homes.

Mark Carlin, Director of Forest Operations at Coillte told the Sean O'Rourke show on RTE Radio One that the main goal is to protect the wind turbines.

The fire at at Cloosh Valley is threatening to destroy one of Ireland's largest wind farms.

He said that at the moment there is a helicopter helping fight the fire and the team is about to be joined by the Air Corps.

"We're bringing in extra staff as well to fight the fire."

He also said that there is plenty of water sources and buckets flown by helicopter are dipped into lake and then brought to the flames.

"We've got guys on the ground then to keep control of the fire with beaters until the choppers come back."

He also warned that while the fire is 4.5km from people's homes, the fire fighters don't know what will happen in the afternoon, or if winds change, or how the fire started.

The blaze in Galway is one of around 30 wild fires across the country at the moment.

Thousands of acres of forest, moorland and wildlife are now at major risk of destruction according to Coillte, as well as Ireland's largest wind farm, Galway Wind Park, is also located within this forest, and is at close proximity to the fire.

"The scale of this fire is frightening," according to Gerard Murphy, Managing Director of Coillte Forest.

The fire is on land of 4,000ha and the damage is running into millions, he said. "A forestry the size of a football pitch is worth about €10,000-15,000."

The fire services are fighting are about 30 fires at the moment around Ireland, he said, in 'high risk' conditions. The cause of these fires, he said, is at best recklessness or at worst it's criminal.

Recent forest fires around the country have resulted in hundreds of hectares of productive commercial forestry being destroyed while one family lost their home in Mayo when the thatched roof caught fire from embers carried on the wind from a wild fire.

These forest fires have also threatened the welfare of many other homes and local communities, as well as causing devastation to vast areas of wildlife habitat.

"The recent outbreak of fires, particularly across the west and north of the country, has been responsible for the worst damage to Coillte's estate since 2011. The combined loss of productive timber, together with the cost of replanting the affected areas will result in a multimillion euro bill."

Under the Wildlife Act, it is illegal to set fires to growing vegetation from March 1 to August 31.

With weather forecasters predicting the current dry conditions to continue for the rest of the week, Coillte is appealing to the public to be extra vigilant towards the dangers of wildfire and be mindful that responsible behaviour, including acting safely and responsibly in rural environments, can significantly reduce the chance of wildfire starting.