Locals using spades to battle the fires earlier today
A Donegal TD has demanded a full written report into the circumstances which resulted in a seven hour delay in mobilising the Aer Corp helicopters to fight west Donegal gorse fires earlier today.
One holiday home was destroyed by fires which ragged in the Annagry, Loughanure and Belcruit areas. Other homes and businesses were close to being lost to the fames but for the heroics of so many. All day appeals were made via social media for people to make their way to the area to help fight the fires.
Tonight, after a weekend which saw fires in the west of the county and Inishowen, questions are being asked about the delays in getting helicopters into the area to douse the flames with water.
In a strongly worded statement a clearly annoyed Deputy Pat 'the Cope' Gallagher said "it is absolutely shocking the delays which occurred before the Aer Corp helicopter arrived on the scene of the gorse fires in West Donegal, the delay in mobilising the helicopter certainly left the entire situation very dangerous, and potentially threatening to numerous properties and indeed life in the areas of the fires."
The gorse fires which struck today are, according to Donegal County Council, under control after a day where hundreds of locals joined with the emergency services to battle flames that threatened homes and commercial properties across a wide area of west Donegal.
Deputy Gallagher said the efforts of Donegal Fire Service have to be publicly acknowledged along with the massive number of local volunteers who fought the fire for hours, and the numerous farmers who provided slurry tanks for quenching the fires.
A private helicopter was also on site from earlier in the afternoon which was arranged by Donegal County Council.
"When the Aer Corp helicopter did arrive, it played a significant role in controlling the fire. But, the issue here is why it took a full seven hours to get the helicopter cover, which was so badly needed earlier in order to control this raging inferno that threatened property and life in West Donegal," added Deputy Gallagher.
He said the initial alarm and emergency call for Aer Corp assistance was made by Donegal County Council at 9.30 am. "That was followed shortly afterwards by myself contacting the Minister of State for Defence Paul Kehoe. I maintained constant contact with the minister and officials, unfortunately the contact was all initiated from me, and very little response was being returned by them to me in the course of the day.
"What is devastating for all of us involved in this sequence of events - is that it took seven hours to get the helicopter on site. Critical and crucial time was lost whereby the fire could have been better managed had the numerous firefighters and local volunteers got the Aer Corp back up which was requested earlier on."
Deputy Gallagher has now called for a full written report as to the background and circumstances which lead to this totally unacceptable delay in getting air cover to fight this gorse fire in West Donegal.
"It is simply just not good enough that such a delay could occur, critical time was lost in fighting this fire with the necessary air support that was so desperately needed. It was obvious from earlier morning this air support was going to be required to manage a fire of this magnitude.
"Serious breaches of protocols have occurred here in this case. We are fortunate that no lives were lost only for the fact of the massive local voluntary effort along with the entire Donegal Fire Service being on site working endlessly to fight this fire massive property loss would have occurred albeit one house was lost to the fire," stated Deputy Gallagher.
He said lessons had to be learned from the errors made today: "It is only a matter of time until a similar situation arises again, and we cannot countenance a similar massive time delay in mobilising the Aer Corp in the interests of public safety. We must learn from the massive mistakes of today’s fire and ensure that robust protocols are in place that better manages wild fires – by ensuring that Aer Corp cover is provided when requested by a fire service within an acceptable time period along with army support. These will be the basic requirements of any agreed protocol," he stated.