Gardaí carry out house-to-house enquiries as speculation mounts over Donegal gorse fire

Picture: Micheal Mac Giolla Easbuig

Gardaí have issued an appeal for witnesses amidst local speculation that yesterday's huge wildfires in Co Donegal may have been started deliberately.

Hundreds of acres of land around the villages of Loughanure and Annagry were destroyed following the blaze which started at 6am.

Up to fifteen units of the Donegal Fire Service, supported by the Civil Defence, the Air Corp, soldiers and hundreds of brave locals fought the fires for hours.

The fires, which destroyed one holiday-home and damaged vehicles, were finally brought under control late on Monday evening.

However, there are no local reports that at least one of the fires, a blaze in the Belcruit area, may have been started deliberately.

Although Gardaí say they have no evidence so far to suggest the fires were started deliberately, they have appealed for witnesses if anybody noticed anybody acting suspiciously early on Monday morning in the area.

As part of their investigation, Gardaí are today carrying out house-to-house enquiries in the Loughanure area.

Garda Inspector Seamus McGonigle of Milford Garda Station said they are appealing for any information which could help them with their investigation into the blaze.

"Gardaí have launched an investigation which is routine in the circumstances. We are conducting house-to-house enquiries and are appealing to anybody who may have any information which may help us with our investigation to contact us at Milford Garda station," he said.

He added that while local volunteers had done trojan work, he appealed to people trying to view the fires not to choke up road corridors for emergency vehicles.

There had been criticism locally about the delay in deploying the Air Corps to the scene after it took seven hours for the air relief to begin dropping water over the affected areas around 5pm.

Local TD Pat the Cope Gallagher called on the Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe's Department to provide a full report on the delay on mobilising the Air Corps.

However, the Air Corps defended its response time in helping contain gorse fires in Donegal, saying it is not a primary fire fighting agency.

Captain Kevin Fitzgerald said the crew who fought the fires had to be assembled from "the four corners of the country."

“When we got the task we had to mobilise a crew. We don’t have the resources for fire fighting. Crews had to come from all over the country,” said Capt Fitzgerald.

Captain Fitzgerald told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that fire fighting from the air is a very specialised task and is “relatively high risk”. Because the Air Corps is not a dedicated fire service it takes time to respond, while it can respond to medical emergencies within 10 minutes, he said.

The wildfires in Donegal have been quelled according to a spokesperson for Donegal County Council although some 'hot spots' do remain and are being monitored.

And it warned that there is still a risk of other fires breaking out.

"The notice of high fire risk (Condition Orange) remains effective up until Wednesday of this week for all areas where hazardous fuels such as gorse, heather, dried grasses and other dead vegetation exist," said the spokesperson.

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