City air pollution was fives times permitted limit as Cloosh Valley fire devastates forest and wildlife

The fires at Cloosh. 
Picture by Carmel Mannion

The fires at Cloosh. Picture by Carmel Mannion

Recently-installed air monitoring devices deployed in the city revealed last evening that a level FIVE times the normal rate of air pollution was exceeded on Tuesday evening when the city was engulfed in clouds of smoke from the devastating wildfire at Cloosh Valley in Connemara.

With a change in wind direction at 4pm Tuesday, massive clouds of smoke covered the city and as far east as Craughwell, causing breathing difficulties to many people who suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma.

The smoke pollution event was recorded on a newly deployed ‘Citizen Science Air Pollution’ monitoring network, which engages second-level school students as part of a national air-monitoring network. The Galway city air-monitoring node is located in Coláiste Iognáid at Sea Road in Galway.

The data, which is webcast live every five minutes, clearly shows the smoke pollution peak hitting five times the World Meteorological Office exceedance ceiling. The air quality monitor comprises a low-cost particulate matter (PM ) detector that streams data live over the 4G network.

At time of going to press on Wednesday, the regional emergency response operation was still in place as Coillte staff, along with Galway Fire Service and the Air-Corps battled to fight the fire.

Coillte staff and fire services were on site since 5.30am yesterday and with rain not expected until tomorrow (Friday ), crews are not set for any respite in the battle.Coillte managing director Gerard Murphy has said that it will take several more days before the agency can be satisfied that the threat has passed.

Civilian and air corps helicopters have been carrying out water drops since early this morning. Army personnel have been mobilised to assist in brashing, as the focus of yesterday morning’s activity was to control the fires on a number of fronts including fire events in the proximity of the 169MW Galway Wind Park construction site.

Coillte are urging the public to stay away from any areas affected by these fires and to immediately report any uncontrolled or unattended fires to the Fire and Emergency Services.

Gardai in Galway have asked the public to refrain from entering the Cloosh Valley area. Persons and vehicles entering the area are posing difficulty for the Emergency Services. In particular the Seanafeastin Road should be avoided except for emergency vehicles and local residents, as it is dangerous to enter and there is a possibility of becoming trapped.

More than 1,500 hectares of forestry and 2,000 hectares of bog land have been destroyed in the fire to date. A spokesperson for Coillte said last evening that they greatly appreciate the tremendous assistance it continues to receive from the Defence Forces and Emergency Services.

While the cause of the fire at Cloosh Valley has yet to be definitively established, it is believed that the fire originated from deliberately set gorse fires, which subsequently spread onto Coillte-owned forestry and the Galway Wind Park site.

Under the Wildlife Act, it is illegal to set fires to growing vegetation from March 1 to August 31 and those found responsible for deliberately starting fires can be prosecuted. Recent dry and windy weather has greatly increased the risk of gorse and forest fire, but deliberate fire setting has also been a significant factor in the cause of many of the fires on Coillte property around the country.

TheMinister for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources and Fine Gael TD for Galway West and Mayo South, Seán Kyne, has said that a review of the enforcement of wildlife legislation is needed given the unprecedented gorse fires which have raged in Connemara and across many parts of the country.

“The fire at Cloosh Valley, in particular, is one of the most serious and largest ever to occur in Ireland. Thousands of acres of forestry and bogland have been destroyed with terrible consequences for wildlife. Of even greater concern are the many homes, businesses and communities that have been put at serious risk. “The scale of the disaster can be seen from the emergency response operation that has been put in place which involves the emergency services, army and air corps as well as Coillte staff.

“The exceptional dry spell of weather, as well as the fast changing weather patterns, has hindered efforts.“I want to pay tribute to everyone who has been battling the blaze at Cloosh Valley.

“The Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, has confirmed that his Department and its partner agencies such as the EU and NASA have detected over 50 illegal fires in recent weeks. “There are genuine and legitimate reasons for managing gorse and scrub such as when such materials pose a threat to homes or property.

“However, removal must be undertaken in a safe, controlled and monitored way. It is absolutely imperative that people act within the law. The law is very clear: Under Section 40 of the Wildlife Act 1976 it is an offence to burn any vegetation growing on land not then cultivated between March 1 and August 31 of any year. Given the destruction to wildlife and the unprecedented danger to homes, businesses and communities I think the existing legislation and, in particular, its enforcement needs to be reviewed,” he concluded.

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