By Paddy Mulchrone
A GRASS fire threatened one of West Cork’s most beautiful beaches on Saturday as holidaymakers played at the seaside just yards away.
A fire hundreds of feet wide raged across dune grassland behind Barleycove.
It was tackled by firemen from two tenders along with volunteers, and with the wind blowing away from the beach, holidaymakers playing in the sand were blissfully unaware.
It is believed the damage was mostly likely caused by a portable barbeque lit in the dunes.
The late afternoon blaze spread quickly among the tinder dry long grass before firemen from nearby Schull and also Bantry arrived to tackle it with hoses and beaters.
Within an hour of their arrival, the thick smoke had subsided and the flames reduced, leaving an ugly black scar – and a searing warning to holidaymakers.
One holidaymaker watching the drama said: ‘There was a tent there before, and I was told they were trying to use a portable barbeque. But in these conditions, it could just as easily have been a dropped cigarette. It’s totally crazy without rain for so long.’
Frustrated fire chiefs later confirmed the beachside blaze may well have been started by the portable barbeque.
Sub station officer Tomas Lannin was among ten officers on two engines from Schull who got to the blaze within 30 minutes of the first 999 call.
A colleague told him they had found a burned-out portable barbeque with a trail of burned grass leading to the blaze.
He said the fire, which was dealt with within an hour, served as a grim reminder to holidaymakers while the dry spell lasts: ‘It was obviously an accident, but people have to be very careful. Dead grass and gorse is just fuel and it takes very little to ignite it. Barleycove has had a very narrow escape. It could have been a lot worse.’
Together with the wetlands and tidal lakes behind it, Barleycove has long been designated an area of special scientific interest because of its rare fauna and the number of migrating birds seen there.