‘It’s still smouldering’: Howth man tackles wildfire using leaf blower

Mick McCarthy says he is ‘not willing to see the whole hill destroyed’

Mick McCarthy: ‘I have a very strong leaf blower so I went up on the day of heavy rain about a week ago and within a half hour I had it all out.’  Photograph:  Tom Honan

Mick McCarthy: ‘I have a very strong leaf blower so I went up on the day of heavy rain about a week ago and within a half hour I had it all out.’ Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Gorse wildfires have continued to blaze in Howth over the last number of days, leading local man Mick McCarthy to attempt to put the flames out himself using a leaf blower.

Dublin Fire Brigade has warned that others should not follow his lead but Mick McCarthy has lived on the hill for close to 25 years and says he is “not willing to see the whole hill destroyed” by the fire, which he says encroached on three houses on Saturday, two of which are adjacent to his own.

“The fire was very close to the back of our properties. It’s been going on for nearly three weeks now. I’ve been watching it and monitoring it and it’s not under control until the fire is out. It’s smouldering, so when the wind gets up, it starts again,” he said.

At the weekend, four units of Dublin Fire Brigade attended the scene of the gorse wildfire in the Shelmartin area of Howth in north Co Dublin, with assistance from the Irish Air Corps. A helicopter was provided for aerial firefighting.

View of a gorse wildfire in Howth, Co Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan
View of a gorse wildfire in Howth, Co Dublin. Photograph: Tom Honan

Last week a large blaze destroyed acres of gorse and sent plumes of smoke across parts of Clontarf, Baldoyle and Malahide. A status orange “high” national forest fire warning was in place until midday on Monday last.

Another recent outbreak, also on the southern slope of Howth, burned for more than a week before being extinguished.

In the second week of the fire, Mr McCarthy noticed a line of 300ft of flames on the hill and decided to tackle it himself.

“I have a very strong leaf blower so I went up on the day of heavy rain about a week ago and within a half hour I had it all out – with one leaf blower and a fill of petrol. The rain did help but I went out again when it was dry and did it, though it was harder,” he told The Irish Times.

Trees, plants and birds

The nature surrounding Mr McCarthy’s property was “very important”, he said, and while recreational activities such as hill walking and playing golf are also affected by the fire, he worried the trees, plants and birds would be impacted.

“The fire came very close to a beautiful silver birch tree, the nicest tree on the hill and I thought it would be destroyed. The other day I saw a bird desperately trying to fly through the smoke to get to his chicks that were endorsed in the flames. Their nests are completely gone,” he said.

“I know the priority is human life and property but there are other aspects of this fire.”

For the past few days, Mr McCarthy has been going out when the fire is smouldering and “making sure the smouldering parts are moved away from the fresh areas where they can reignite”.

“I spend a few hours at it, trying to move it back into the black area that’s already been burnt.”

Mr McCarthy said he hopes the fire brigade would be able to put an end to the fire soon. “Without the Air Corps last Saturday we would’ve had the fire continuing towards our property. But it’s still smouldering and reigniting every hour or so.”

Commenting on Mr McCarthy’s actions, a spokeswoman for Dublin Fire Brigade said: “While firefighters trained in wildfire suppression can use leaf blowers, our advice to the public is to keep clear of these fires and attempt no intervention.

“If help is required, call 999 or 112. Wildfires can change direction suddenly and also increase in intensity without warning.”