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Gorse fires threaten to engulf West Cork homes

March 27th, 2016 6:33 PM

By Jackie Keogh

West Cork firefighters endeavouring to control a huge gorse fire on Seefin, Ahakista. (Photo: Annette Logan)

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FIREFIGHTERS saved 20 homes from being burned as 64 wildfires raged across West Cork from St Patrick’s Day to midday on Tuesday, March 22nd.

West Cork fire officers confirmed that all of the fire brigades were out for most of the weekend trying to tackle the flames that – in the case of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula – ran from miles.

The crews began at 4pm on St Patrick’s Day when they were sent to deal with four gorse fires, followed on Friday, March 18th, with a further eight calls.

On Saturday 19th, the worst of the trouble, there were 16 calls and there were, at one stage, seven fire tenders – including a tanker with extra water capacity – from Bantry, Skibbereen and Schull fighting fires on the north and south sides of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. Many of the ten-men crews worked from dusk until dawn only to be tasked with further 17 calls at different times throughout the following day.

On Monday, there was no let-up as the crews fought no fewer than 16 wildfires, followed by four more before midday on Tuesday.

Saturday night was the most intense. The bulk of the work was along the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, but crews were also sent to Kilcatherine, Eyeries and Castletownbere; Goleen, Ballybawn, near Ballydehob, and Mount Gabriel on the Mizen Peninsula; north of Dunmanway town and Cool Mountain; Glengarriff and Ballingeary.

The fire officer told The Southern Star: ‘They were covering a huge area for extended periods. Some fires only took a half hour to get under control, but there were others that had to be attended for five and six hours, and they had the added difficulty of having to deal with one call after another.’

The fire officer said the danger in having so many firefighters out dealing with rural, hillside fires is that it takes the brigade’s protection away from the population centre in West Cork.

On Saturday night, for example, he said control received a call that there was a house fire in a town – the name of which he did not specify – and, if one of the crews hadn’t been on their way back from a fire, and in a position to respond to that call, the outcome could have been much worse.

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