BY JACKIE KEOGH
A BANTRY firefighter has spoken of the dramatic scenes in the hills above the town during the recent spate of illegal gorse fires.
Bantry Station Officer Ian Vickery recalled arriving into Glengarriff at 2pm on the Sunday afternoon and seeing the mountain behind the village on fire – a dramatic but deeply troubling sight.
‘It started at the Ellen’s rock area and burned over the mountain towards the national park,’ he said. ‘But we have been lucky that there had been no forest fires earlier this year.’
Ian said that the Saturday night of March 19th was an experience that he – nor any of the ten-man crews in the 21 stations in Cork’s fire department – would want to see repeated.
Over the weekend all of the local area crews, including Macroom, Bandon, Dunmanway, Schull, Skibbereen, Bantry, Castletownbere and Clonakilty, were called out, and on Saturday night in particular, the service was stretched perilously thin.
It was stretched because the fire on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula raged from Glenlough Cross on the southwest, out as far as the monument on the Bantry side of the headland and back in to Ahakista, with both sides of Seefin Mountain on fire.
With Bantry, Skibbereen and Schull actively engaged in trying to contain this fire – and other brigades out on other calls – there were just Castletownbere and Clonakilty available and on call should another emergency occur.
‘Everyone in the fire service is a volunteer,’ said Ian. ‘They all have day jobs that allow them to be on a retainer as a fire fighter – which means they all have to live and work within a mile of the station and be able to respond to a call within minutes.
‘Although most of the recent fires were in the Bantry area, the service depends on support from other stations. On that Saturday night, you had Skibbereen and Schull helping Bantry because the Sheep’s Head was particularly devastated.
‘It is ridiculous the level of burning,’ said Ian. ‘In some parts, as soon as we put out one fire in one area, another would be lit in the same general area.’ Ian also conveyed how physically demanding the job is. ‘In some cases,’ he said, ‘we would have an hour long climb up a hill to a fire and then be out all night, with just some meal breaks or brief rests during the day’.
On Saturday, they started out at 6am, dealt with six or seven calls during the day, and were still going at 1am the next day.
He expressed the firefighters’ frustration in dealing with gorse fires.
‘We understand that farmers want to burn gorse and scrubland, but it is dangerous to have people randomly cracking matches. In some cases, it is just random acts of arson.’