Latest: Battle against Galway forest fire 'a small bit better' today, says Air Corps Captain

Latest: Battle against Galway forest fire 'a small bit better' today, says Air Corps Captain

Update 6.40pm: Air Corps Captain Sean McCarthy says today has been a more successful one for crews trying to tackle the forest fire in Co Galway, before warning that dry conditions could yet cause the blaze to grow.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Captain McCarthy described the extent of the blaze.

“The type of fire when it hits the forest you're seeing flames of up to 60 feet,” he said.

“The frontal fire in some places is eight kilometres long so it’s quite extensive.

“Today seems to be a small bit better but because of the dry conditions it could flame up again at any time."

Captain McCarthy said crew members are facing obstacles, but have been trained in similar scenarios.

"Visibility around the smoke area is reduced,” he said.

“It is also close to a wind farm with small anemometer. Flying this close to the ground is always a risk but that's why our crews are trained for such scenarios.

“From January to March every year our crews are trained in the Blessington lakes area so when calls like this come in, they are ready to respond."

Update 5.04pm: Forest fires are causing a major air pollution episode in the local area, according to Professor Colin O’Dowd of NUI Galway.

At around 4pm yesterday evening a change in wind direction engulfed Galway city in smoke pollution for a few hours.

The smoke pollution event was recorded on a newly deployed ‘Citizen Science Air Pollution’ monitoring network, which engages second-level school students as part of a national air-monitoring network.

The data, which is webcast live every five minutes, showed the smoke pollution peak hitting at least 20 times the normal level.

Latest: Battle against Galway forest fire 'a small bit better' today, says Air Corps Captain

Earlier:

Update 2pm: Coillte has denied claims from Galway farmers who put out fires on their own land that the Semi-State forestry firm prioritised saving the company’s wind turbines.

Thousands of acres of forestry and bog land have been destroyed after fires spread throughout the Cloosh Valley near Oughterard.

“When you’ve a fire that’s out here at the moment, first of all, you’re first priority is to life – so actually the people who are out here, fighting the fires, our first priority is to protect them,” he said.

“Our second priority is to protect livestock, property and then assets.

“And that’s our priority at the end of the day. The fire is so extensive here, and we’re stretched and have been stretched.”

Latest: Battle against Galway forest fire 'a small bit better' today, says Air Corps Captain

Earlier:

Locals in West Galway who have had to fight fire on their land say they could have done with more help.

A regional emergency response operation is in now in place as efforts continue to contain a massive fire in Cloosh Valley, Co Galway.

Coillte staff and fire services have been on site since 5.30am and civilian and army corps helicopters have been carrying out water drops since early this morning.

Local farmer Kevin McDonagh says the community had to try put out the blaze without sufficient resources

"Well, it would have been nice to have more help, especially as it started to take off quite quickly," he said.

"Everybody just put their shoulders to the wheel, essentially and got it off, but it would be nice to have more support, because we had no access to water.

"That was one of the issue we did have - if we'd had access it might have been easier to maybe get the fire out quicker, but all we could do was bat it down, basically."

Army personnel have been mobilised to assist in brashing, as the focus of this morning’s activity is to control the fires on a number of fronts including fire events in the proximity of the 169MW Galway Wind Park construction site.

Coillte are urging the public stay away from any areas affected by these fires and to immediately report any uncontrolled or unattended fires to the Fire and Emergency Services.

Over 1,500 hectares of forestry and 2,000 hectares of bog land have been destroyed in the fire to date.

Coillte said that it greatly appreciate the tremendous assistance it continues to receive from the defence forces and emergency services.

Gardaí have asked the public to avoid the area – particularly the Seanaphaistin road – saying they could become trapped by the fire.

While the cause of the fire at Cloosh Valley has yet to be definitively established, it is believed that the fire originated from deliberately set gorse fires, which subsequently spread onto Coillte owned forestry and the Galway Wind Park site.

Under the Wildlife Act, it is illegal to set fires to growing vegetation from March 1 - August 31 and those found responsible for deliberately starting fires can be prosecuted.

Recent dry and windy weather has greatly increased the risk of gorse and forest fire, but deliberate fire setting has also been a significant factor in the cause of many of the fires on Coillte property around the country.


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