While the cost of the unprecedented wildfires that raged across the county this week is set to run into the millions, praise is flooding in for the Donegal heroes who fought to ensure the cost was not even higher.
Miraculously, not one life was lost, there were no serious injuries, and only one home was destroyed by the more than then 640 fires which broke out since Saturday at locations all over the county.
In terms of the scale of the fires, John Duffy of Coillte told the Democrat that the fire which started near Glenveagh on Saturday travelled nearly 20 miles to Meenlecknalore, about 4 miles from Dungloe. The fire in the Glenties/Portnoo area extended 10-15sqm. Around 250 hectares of Coillte forests were burnt in Dungloe, 250 hectares completely destroyed in the Glenties area and a further 250 hectares partially damaged in the same area.
Army Commandant Kevin McDonald said around 20 square miles of land had been destroyed by fire around the Dungloe area, and approximately 10 square miles in the Muckish/Falcarragh area.
By yesterday afternoon, all of the fires had been put out except for Muckish, where the local unit remained and Leenan, where four units continued to fight a blaze.
Garry Martin, Donegal County Council’s Director of Community Services said the response was unlike anything he had ever seen.
“The Emergency Services have done an absolutely Trojan job on the ground. I’ve been out and seen them and it’s an absolutely Herculean task, working long hours in inaccessible areas, and in horrendous conditions.
“I’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks and deepest appreciation to the Civil Defence fire tenders from Carrigart and Carndonagh and the two Fire Rescue tenders and staff from Carrickfinn. The airport was stood down on Sunday night/Monday morning so that they could assist the fire service in Dungloe and Tuesday night in Portnoo.
“The Army has also been absolutely superb, since our initial request for assistance on Sunday right on through, the 28th Infantry Battalion from Ballyshannon, the troops deployed from Athlone and last, but not least, the Army helicopters. All together, there were more than 200 soldiers at work in Donegal, helping fight fires on the ground, carrying out water drops by helicopter and Technical Engineering Officer Capt. James Cahill helping us with reconnaissance - keeping an eye on the movement of the fires so that we could decide the best way to tackle them.
“The final group, and it’s vital, is the local people. I could not praise them highly enough for the assistance that they have given the emergency services on so many levels: the people who came out and actually used whatever implements they had to beat the fire, those who gave so freely of their time and vehicles such as tankers ferried water to help us dampen areas we’d been working on or dampening areas that fires were approaching; the householders, restaurant and cafe owners who gave so freely of food and drink.
“It has been very, very much a community effort. To have been out amongst that and seen the community response has made me very proud to be a Donegal man and is very humbling indeed.”
Mr Martin said that, given the scale of the problem, it would have been impossible to cope without all this help. “In the 72 hours from 8am Sunday morning to 8am Wednesday morning, there were fires at in excess of 640 locations in the county. We have 146 fire personnel so support from other agencies and volunteers were absolutely key in allowing us to manage it.
“We normally can call on neighbouring fire services, but, on this occasion, they were all unavailable as they were already stretched dealing with fires in their respective areas. That’s where the local community came in with their manpower and tankers.”
John Duffy, District Manager of the forestry agency Coillte, was also hugely impressed by the way the whole community pitched in. “I knew there was always good local community spirit but the extent has really surprised me. Right across Donegal the response and co-operation has been exceptional altogether. “The local people did a tremendous job protecting houses in the Dungloe and Doochary areas, in Glenties and in Portnoo, and in the Cashelard and the Knather areas of Ballyshannon.”