When parishioners left the St. Bridget’s Church in Lettermacaward after the 7 pm mass on Saturday, the sky ahead of them was red for miles.
“With the red sky and the smoke it was just an unbelievable sight,” said Father Eamonn McLaughlin of St. Bridget’s. “In a very short space of time, because it was so windy, it had just spread a few miles and basically that was the first time that any of us had seen that the sky was lit up for miles.”
Everyone in the vicinity of the fire was out of their houses with spades or shovels, doing what they could to help fire brigades and emergency services to stem the blaze, the priest said.
“It was amazing to see the community support,” he said. “Everybody was in assistance.”
Many people did not get to sleep Saturday night; people was on high alert, he said. Young people of the parish who were involved in the community effort came by the church on Sunday morning, their faces still blackened with soot.
“It was just spreading so fast,” Father Eamonn said. He said some of the young people said they were standing and watching the fire blaze on one side of the N56, when suddenly a gust of wind lifted the flames and carried them to the other side.
“They described it as, ‘The fire came over our heads and ignited on the other side of the road,’” Father Eamonn said.
He said it was the first time the area was “faced with a situation where we were no longer in control. The natural elements had put the area in danger and we were faced with the reality that when nature roars, that it is extremely strong and powerful.” The parish was largely blanketed with smoke, he said.
Yesterday afternoon the church hosted a service of healing and reconciliation and people helping to decorate the church for the event received four calls in 20 minutes from people wanting help clearing out sheds and other buildings potentially in the path of the fire, Father Eamonn said.
Father Eamonn wanted to extend his thanks to everyone involved from the parish and outside the parish who has helped over these last days. “We are indebted to the fire services, to An Garda Siochana who were outstanding in keeping everyone safe, and also to the armed forces,” he said. He said that the call from Pat “the Cope” Gallagher, MEP, to bring in the armed forces was a great help.
“This wasn’t a time for red tape,” Father Eamonn said, adding that he believed Mr. Gallagher’s call brought the assistance more quickly.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, the priest was looking out the window at what he thought was clouds about three miles outside of Lettermacaward in the direction of Glenties. But then he realised they weren’t clouds.
“It’s just thick, thick billows of smoke,” Father Eamonn said. “I see a helicopter above it now.”