Family has lucky escape from ‘terrifying’ fires

April 19th, 2021 7:05 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Firefighters and property owners battle a massive gorse fire that threatened seven homes and a well-known tourist attraction – The Ewe Experience – at the Caha Pass near Glengarriff last Sunday. (Photo: Kloe Lyndorff )

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EVEN homes and a major tourist attraction in Glengarriff were put at risk by two fires that were deliberately started on Sunday.

An estimated 80 acres were burned at the Caha Pass, plus 80 more at Tooreen in a fire that threatened seven homes and the well-known visitor attraction, The Ewe Experience.

The owners of The Ewe admitted to The Southern Star that their experience of working side by side with the fire fighters to protect their property was ‘terrifying.’

Bantry station officer Ian Vickery confirmed that 27 fire fighters – made up from three fire brigades from Bantry, two from Castletownbere, and two from Kenmare – tackled the fires for nine hours between 4.30 and 1.30am.

‘While the Bantry and Kenmare crews were fighting the fire at the Caha Pass on Sunday afternoon, a second fire was subsequently lit at Tooreen, not 500m away from us.

‘That was a serious fire,’ said Ian. ‘We were lucky that the wind conditions changed and we were able to get a handle on it.

‘It stretched all of our resources, so Castletownbere was called in to deal with Tooreen,’ said Ian who pointed out that if there was a callout to a fire or traffic accident the next available brigade would have been Skibbereen or Killarney.

The station officer described how Kurt Lyndorff, his daughter Kloe, and her partner Adam Carveth, did Trojan work to protect their property on the night. ‘They were fantastic,’ he said.

‘It was just incredibly scary,’ said Kloe. ‘My parents have been here for 18 years and it never came that close before.

‘We’d had two weeks of dry weather so the vegetation up there was crisp and the wind was coming down towards us,’ she said.

The three of them went up the mountain, careful to approach the fire from the rear so they didn’t get trapped by the flames.

‘We were working for about an hour before we saw about 12 head torches coming towards us. It was the Castletownbere team. Then the wind picked up and the fire kept leaping up and going into new patches of grass,’ added Kloe.

‘The fire went right over Esk Mountain down to the N71 following the power lines down and a huge number of fence posts were burned along the way. They actually burned in the middle, leaving just the wires hanging.

‘It’s very disorientating when you are up there in the flames in the dark, but it was only when we came down, three hours later, that we realised how close it had come. It stopped about 500m from the edge of the garden.’

She said she dreaded to think of the damage that could have been caused if the wind had not changed direction. She said an entire tourism project, complete with trails, handrails, and irreplaceable sculptures, could have been destroyed.

‘We were incredibly lucky but the habitats weren’t so lucky. I am completely heartbroken about the death and destruction caused to the wildlife.

‘It is illegal from March to September to burn for a reason. It is to protect ground nesting birds and a huge quantity of invertebrates. It’s just really sad,’ she added.

‘This is a symptom of our disconnect from the natural world that people think it is okay to do these brutal burns. We are in the midst of a pandemic that was caused by our disrespect for nature. Here in Ireland, this is the equivalent of clearing and burning a rainforest in the Amazon, but this is happening on our doorsteps, literally.’

Even when they came off the mountain they had to go back up with buckets of water to douse the fence posts because they were still alight and threatened to start more fires.

While fighting the fire, Kurt said he contemplated what it would be like to lose everything. At one stage, he wanted to go in front of the fire to save the house but, for his own safety, he was advised to keep working with the wind at his back.

‘These fires happen every single year,’ he said, ‘when will people realise that the practice of burning land is just not safe?’

Meanwhile, Bantry Fire Brigade battled another huge, highly visible fire that ran along a 2km stretch from Seskin towards Trawlebane on Wednesday, April 7th from 10.30pm until 8am.

By creating fire breaks, they were able to let the area within fire breaks burn out – a course of action that stopped the fire spreading to the whole hill.

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