UP to 30 neighbours battled for 72 hours to keep a raging bog fire from reaching their homes at Coologmartin, Donadea as women and children were forced to evacuate the area as the flames reached within 20 metres of boundary lines.
It brought back terrible nightmares for Willie O’Sullivan, who lost a child in a house fire several years ago. His wife Rita explained; “We were petrified. We had the grand kids with us and one of them asked, “is our house going to burn down? It was dreadful.”
Up to 30 houses were affected with smoke billowing in through window cracks no matter how hard the residents tried to keep it out.
“We stacked towels and everything under the doors and at the windows but it was no use, We did everything we could,” said Willie as the traces of ash cover the window sills and floors.
When the Leader called out last Friday May 6, the stench of burning peat still hung in the air and the bog fire was still smouldering on the far side of the tract.
Willie said he noticed the fire around tea time on Monday May 2 and went up to the Bord Na Mona works up the road for assistance. He said the local workers were very helpful and gave some machinery and diesel over the course of the two days as they were busy fighting to keep the fire away from their own place.
He is angry with the Bord Na Mona management.
“There was no management down there, it was only the ordinary workers. No one from Bord Na Mona management knocked on my door or any of my neighbours and asked us how we were. They didn’t have an action plan and in fairness to the local workers, they did their best. It was the management I would fault,” he said.
As the flames approached, Willie got out his machine and tried to dig a fire break with the help of his neighbours.
“Fair play to the people around here. I want to thank all the farmers who came down with all sorts of machinery, diggers and tractors. Everyone was working together to keep the fire back. We cut two fire voids to slow the fire down. It got into the wood and parts of that are burnt. Farmers had to bring their dairy herds in,” he remarked.
The men worked all night Monday and Tuesday, the fire was slowed but was still burning.
“At one stage we thought it was fading but it was burning under the bog and it came back up again. The fire brigade had wet it down and we covered it over,” he said.
Willie is fearful that such a fire may break out again and he wants the residents to meet with Bord Na Mona to set out an action plan on how to deal with such a situation. He suggested putting a water pipe along the back of the properties with hydrants at set intervals.
The smoke was so bad, Willie had to go to KDoc and he now is taking medication for a chest infection. The neighbours were only starting to move back into their homes last Friday.
A Bord Na Mona spokesperson stressed the company did have an action plan and that it had put it in place. He said the ordinary workers were employees of the company and that management had spoken to people on the ground over the course of the three to four days, although it was impossible to speak to everyone. He said many of the Bord Na Mona workers had experience of dealing with fires for over 30 years and had stopped fighting fires at its own premisis to bring machinery up to the residents at one point.
“This fire started outside our boundary line, we did not cause it, and it spread to our property and it has done us a lot of damage too. We had people out working 24/7,” he said. The start of the fire has now been pinpointed to a mile and a half outside the Bord Na Mona boundary.
He said Bord Na Mona has an open door policy and that local residents were welcome to contact them about the issue.