‘PEOPLE don’t complain about gorse fires to the gardai because they don’t want to be labelled a snitch.’
Alice van Galen, whose home and holiday cottage at Kealties in Ahakista on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, said she doesn’t know who started the fire that raged in her area over the weekend, but other people living in the locality might. Alice said the flames – with the wind driving it on – came to within two metres of her home on Saturday night, March 19th.
When she first noticed it moving swiftly in her direction, she said she called the gardai in Bantry but they were unable to assist her. She said they told her to call the fire brigade and, at 10.30pm on Saturday night, two units from Schull came and fought the fire that threatened to engulf her home until 5.30am.
‘They were fantastic,’ she said, ‘they worked the whole night through.’
Alice, who is Dutch but has lived in West Cork for the last ten years, owns a home on the south side of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula overlooking Dunmanus Bay and the Mizen Peninsula. It was that vantage point that allowed her to see an inferno all around her, including the hills lit up on the Mizen Peninsula.
She told The Southern Star: ‘I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who called the gardai at the weekend.’ But admitted she was ‘too panicky to make an official complaint.
‘Tonnes of people have contacted the gardai,’ she added, ‘but they can’t do anything because they have to catch the person in the act, which is virtually impossible.’
Still ‘nervous, shaken and worried,’ Alice made the point ‘there is still so much gorse around’ that she is ‘afraid to go to sleep in case some maniac would light it in the evening.’
Such is her worry that she has asked a neighbour to clear the gorse around her home and holiday cottage because she is afraid ‘someone will put a match to it.’
She said: ‘most of these fires are started in the early evening and then they feck off and leave it burn because they just don’t care.
‘I’m sick of it. It happens every year and nothing is ever done about it. Tourists who come here are not going to see our beautiful green fields. They are going to see scorched earth.’
After four days of watching both the Mizen and the Sheep’s Head peninsulas burning with wildfires, Alice said: ‘Something needs to be done. This year was particularly bad. It was scary. The wind carried the fire and put not just my house in immediate danger but five other houses in the area as well.
‘We were lucky that the road blocked the fire, but there was still a danger that a spark could have cross the road and set the fields around our houses on fire.’