Over a third of Ireland's largest forest destroyed by fire

The destruction has claimed thousands of hectares of forest and bogland in the area

Over a third of Ireland's largest forest destroyed by fire

Image: Irish Air Corps

Members of the public have been warned to stay away from a huge forest fire that is burning in Galway.

Coillte and Air Corps helicopters have been dumping water to help fire crews, and farmers fight the blaze.

It is believed that over a third of the forestry in the Cloosh Valley - Ireland's largest forest - has now been destroyed by the fire.

The destruction has claimed thousands of hectares of forest and bogland in the area.

The blaze has threatened the welfare of many homes and local communities – and caused devastation to vast areas of wildlife habitat.

The Minister for Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys condemned anyone responsible for setting gorse fires around the country:

"It is absolutely awful when you see the devastation it causes," she said. "You just have to look at the woman whose house was burned - that was aboslutely awful - you have to look at the destruction of the habitat, the destruction of wildlife."

A regional emergency response operation is in now in place as Coillte staff, emergency services, the army and air-corps battle to bring the fire under control.

Firefighters have been working through the night to try and protect homes in the area – after high winds and warm temperatures combined to spread the fire outside of Coillte owned land yesterday evening.

The dense smoke from the fire was visible from space yesterday afternoon, and has made some of the narrow mountain roads in the area impassable.

Seán McCarthy from the Air Corps says there are two helicopters working to fight the blaze, one to direct operations and the other to dump water:

“The second helicopter is an AW-139; that is the one you will see with the ‘Bambi Bucket’ carrying 1100 litres at a time,” he said.

“Yesterday they dropped almost 85,000 litres of water in 75 drops so the plan for today is pretty much to do what we did yesterday in the hopes that we can get this thing under control.”

In a statement yesterday, a spokesperson for Coillte praised the work of the defence forces and emergency services, “whose lives are put at significant risk in combating these forest fires.”

While the cause of the CLoosh valley blaze has yet to be established – Coillte believes it may have originated from deliberate set gorse fires which subsequently spread.

As of yesterday evening, there were an estimated that 20 - 30 fires ongoing across the country.

Last week emergency services in Northern Ireland warned that almost 250 fires had been reported across the region since the beginning of May – adding that they believe the majority were started deliberately.

Under Ireland’s Wildlife Act anyone caught deliberately setting fire to growing vegetations between March and August is liable for prosecution.