Wicklow hill fire ‘started maliciously’, believes fire chief

Fires at Lough Dan in Wicklow and Conlawn Hill in Laois brought under control

Fire on Scar Mountain in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Wicklow Fire Service

Fire on Scar Mountain in Co Wicklow. Photograph: Wicklow Fire Service

 

A senior fire official has said he believes the major hill fire which swept through the Lough Dan area of Co Wicklow on Sunday was “started maliciously”.

Chief Fire Officer for Co Wicklow, Aidan Dempsey, confirmed on Monday morning that the blaze was brought under control on Sunday night but that two fire fighters were still in the affected area of the Wicklow Mountains National Park to monitor the situation.

A total of 18 firefighters from three fire stations were called to tackle the Wicklow blaze, which is believed to have started about 6pm on Sunday. Within hours it had spread to a wide area, threatening homes on Shinnagh Lane, according to witnesses. The fire also spread in an area between Brown Mountain and Lough Dan and as night fell was approaching forestry called Barton’s Wood.

Mr Dempsey told The Irish Times that the crew had brought the fire under control by 10.30pm but that a small area continued to burn overnight.

A small crew of firefighters was left to monitor the remaining fire through the night to make sure it didn’t spread any further, he said.

Mr Dempsey said there was “no proof” as to how the blaze started but that all agencies called to the scene, including representatives from Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, were “reasonably confident it was started maliciously”.

Wesley Atkinson of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, who was also at the scene on Sunday, said workers were fortunate there was no wind. He said the fire had covered a wide area and there would be a loss of wildlife but that as the fire climbed higher there was more heather than gorse and this did not burn as rapidly.

Meanwhile in Co Laois, a large fire on Conlawn Hill near Ballyfin continued to burn overnight, while crews monitored the blaze to ensure nearby buildings were protected. Crews from three Laois stations returned to the hill at first light on Monday and extinguished the remaining fire lines, confirmed senior assistant chief fire officer for Co Laois, Anthony Tynan. “The fire is now under control but mop up will continue into the morning,” Mr Tynan said.

Crews from Mountrath, Portlaoise, Mountmellick and Rathdowney stations spent most of Sunday fighting the large blaze.

Laois County Fire and Rescue Service posted on its Facebook page that despite the early time of year, dry weather conditions had led to “extremely rapid fire spread rates”.

An Garda Síochána and the National Parks and Wildlife Service are currently investigating the cause of the Laois fire.