MORE than 50 troops and three Air Corps helicopters were drafted in to help battle wild fires in the north-west.
Flames ripped through gorse and forest in the Doochary, Leitir and Dungloe areas of west Donegal amid speculation the blazes were started deliberately.
At least seven houses were evacuated by late afternoon but firefighters managed to protect property from damage.
Emergency services were also tackling blazes in the Foxford and Pontoon areas of west Mayo.
Two Air Corps helicopters fitted with specialist under-slung Bambi Buckets were equipped to dump 1,200 litres of water at a time over both affected areas.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter commended the members of the defence forces and thanked all of the personnel involved for their heroic efforts.
Bobby McMenamin, acting Donegal chief fire officer, said he believed some of the fires may have been started on purpose.
“Some of it was, because we had it reasonably under control at 5am and there were two remote areas where the two fires started and those two fires have come back to haunt us around Dungloe,” Mr McMenamin said.
“It doesn’t start up on its own.”
The Defence Forces deployed 50 soldiers with specialist firefighting suits to the Dungloe area of Donegal and the Pontoon area of Mayo to help efforts on the ground, with a further contingent on standby if needed.
Mr McMenamin said 120 firefighters were tackling the blazes, which also included separate fires in Muff, in the north of the county, and Ballyshannon in the south.
The first of the fires broke out around 8pm on Saturday.
The top officer said they were so stretched forest fires had to be abandoned to try to fend off gorse flames and protect houses.
A third Air Corps helicopter with a fire-safety qualified army engineer on board surveyed the blaze to provide advice to the firefighting effort on the ground.
Tony Clarke, Coillte’s district manager for Mayo and Galway, said there was a substantial amount of forestry burnt in thePontoon area of Mayo.
“I don’t have any evidence that it was deliberate, but it certainly was carelessness,” Mr Clarke said. “Those fires don’t light themselves.”
Fianna Fáil MEP Pat “The Cope” Gallagher, who is from Donegal, said the Government was not doing enough to protect homes.
“Already the damage that has been caused to forests nearing maturity could run to millions of euro,” he said.
He called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to tour the area by helicopter and consider compensating farmers whose land has been ruined.