The scale of this week’s fire damage was stunning. Coming up from Doochary to Dungloe, lands were blackened from one end of the hills to the other, darkness relieved only by rounds of white stone that rose from charred earth.
But there were areas throughout the fire-damaged Rosses where a green field sat, seemingly untouched, though surrounded by ground that had been severely burned; green grass seemed to work as something of a preventive measure. Some forest areas appeared undamaged, but really it was the still-green tops of the trees that disguised the damage to the trunks and branches beneath.
There were also scenes where fire had passed between houses, only to cross the road in front of them, continuing to blaze through one site until it crossed still another road further down. Countless miles of fencing were damaged beyond repair; electricity poles stood blackened and former grazing lands were ruined.
“I don’t think anyone has seen the amount of damage that has been done,” Sinn Féin Cllr. Marie-Therese Gallagher said. As she spoke in Dungloe, a long stretch of thick, greyish smoke rose in the direction of Ardara, where another fire had broken out. Pieces of burned land were still smouldering in Dungloe in the early afternoon on Tuesday.
Councillor Gallagher had been at hard-hit Rosses areas since the fires began on Saturday.
Of course, fires are not capricious. In these cases, they were wind-blown, carried on the strong gusts that buffeted Donegal over the weekend. “You could actually see the fire heading one way and then turning,” Cllr. Gallagher said.
Earlier this week, the potentially deadly combination of wind and fire had threatened to circle the town, Cllr. Gallagher said. There were fires burning in the area known locally as the Diamond and out to Meenacross, along the back of the town, on the far side of the N56 and appearing to push over the hills toward Loughanure.
“It was nearly a ring around the town,” the councillor said.
Flames came near houses around the town but the work of the fire brigades and army helicopters was excellent, said Cllr. Gallagher, who also credited the hundreds of civilians “doing everything they possible could”. Without them, she said, there were houses and properties that would not have been saved.
The councillor said it may be too soon to fully evaluate the lessons of the fires this week, but she said there should be a more formalised response to such widespread and serious fires.
“It’s a crisis situation,” she said. “I suppose that’s the only way to describe it.”