EXTRA vigilance and care has been urged on the public following an unprecedented number of fires across Laois, which had local fire services stretched beyond capacity over the bank holiday weekend.
Fire crews have been fighting fires in Corbally in the Slieve Blooms, in Derrykearn and in Errill, caused by suspected deliberate vandalism, and exacerbated by the dry windy weather. It followed on from a weekend of non-stop action for Laois Fire Service, as they faced multiple forest and bog fires, along with a house fire in Portlaoise, a motorway truck fire and several smaller mountain fires near Rosenallis.
Throughout the bank holiday weekend, crews from Rathdowney, Mountrath and north Tipperary fought an extensive bog fire in Errill, while Monday was a particularly tense day for Laois crews.
“It was one of the busiest days in ten years,” said Assistant Chief Fire Officer Anthony Tynan. “We were fully committed over the weekend, we had to call in Laois Civil Defence for back-up. Almost every firefighter was working, and working very hard, beating the bog fires by hand, helped by Coillte staff.”
The fire at Derrykearn, near Abbeyleix, began at 10am on Monday and was extinguished by 11am that night, with the help of air support from the Gardaí who surveyed the site via helicopter, and by civil defence volunteers. Though firecrews continued to dampen down the area yesterday (Tuesday) morning, another fire began again later in the day. Around 200 acres of bog and forest were destroyed in the initial blaze, The fire was still underway at time of going to press.
The fire at Clonsoghey, which lies between Kyletalisha landfill and Ballyfin, off the Portlaoise to Mountmellick road, began on Monday and ranged over a 50-acre site of gorse and forest, taking crews until 5am yesterday (Tuesday) to bring it under control.
Crews from Abbeyleix, Durrow, Portlaoise and Mountmellick were involved in both operations. While no homes needed to be evacuated, farmers had to move animals away, and smoke caused a hazard for drivers.
“This is the peak of the fire season, but these fires were very serious, and particularly strong,” said Mr Tynan, explaining that the strong winds enabled the fire to keep moving and changing direction.
Monday turned from bad to worse for the fire service when just after 3pm they received a call about a delivery truck blazing on the motorway, near exit 15 for Portlaoise. Crews from Mountmellick and Portlaoise were diverted to the scene, which necessitated both northbound lanes to be shut down for a time while the blaze was quenched and debris cleared from the road. The driver escaped uninjured from the fire, which destroyed the cab of his vehicle, and caused long traffic delays in Portlaoise town and on the motorway.
The house fire occurred at The Downs, on the Stradbally Road in Portlaoise during Monday also. A derelict two storey house was burnt down, with luckily no damage caused to any other property nearby.
The fire service continues to be on high alert, with rain not expected to fall until Thursday. Mr Tynan had great praise for the exhausted Laois crews, while pleading for people to be careful about lighting fires.
“The lads have done trojan work, not even stopping for meals, and the volunteers too, they have been working together non stop. We are urging people not to light fires. A lot of these are deliberate, it’s vandalism, pure and simple,” commented Mr Tynan.
A spokesperson for Bord na Mona, echoed the warnings. “We are dealing with very serious fires. It is especially dangerous because conditions are so dry. We ask people to report any fires no matter how small, and to take extreme care not to cause fires,”
The forest and bog fires are under investigation by Gardaí.