independent

Friday 17 August 2018

'The flames were 20 feet high and people's lives were at risk'

Eyewitness Pat Ennis
Eyewitness Pat Ennis
The packed car park in Curracloe as the fire rages on the dunes in the background. Pic: Padraig O’Brien

Maria pepper

'It was extremely dangerous. People's lives were at risk. The flames were definitely 20ft high. It would frighten the heart out of you', said eyewitness Pat Ennis who was on his regular morning walk on Sunday when he detoured briefly and climbed onto the dunes to look down onto the beach.

Pat who is the manager of Freddie's Bar in Screen, goes for a walk every day at 10.30 am and on Sunday, he decided to walk from the main car park to the Raven with the intention of strolling back up the beach.

'There is a small hidden car park in off the road that I had never been in before and I went there to see what was going on. I climbed up and saw a fire in the dunes. At that stage, the blaze extended to about 50ft', he said.

Pat said he went quickly to The Winning Post shop to ascertain if the emergency services had been alerted and was told they were on their way. He hung around for about five minutes and then continued on his walk to the Raven Forest, returning to the area at about 12 noon.

When he arrived back at the scene of the fire he could hardly believe his eyes.

The fire had spread over a vast area of 13.5 acres and fire crews were desperately trying to contain. Ambulances were on standby in case of injury and the gardai and civil defence were also assisting.

'It was out of control by then. At that stage, the firemen were able to get the hose to only one part of it and were beating down the flames with shovels. It was nearly down as far as the main car park because that's the way the wind was blowing which was lucky, otherwise it would have gone into the forest.'

'There are a few houses and mobile homes on the opposite side of the narrow road where the dunes were on fire and they were definitely at risk. The road is only 10ft wide and the fire was right down to the edge of it. The flames were only yards away from the mobile homes and houses'.

'On the other side, the beach was packed. I would say there was up to a 1,000 people on it', said Pat.

'One of the firemen asked me to go down to the Winning Post and tell everyone to evacuate. That was at about 12.30pm. I went to the shop and said 'get everybody out'. People would have lost their cars if they hadn't moved out because the flames were coming down near the edge of the car park'.

The one-way system in operation in Curracloe during the summer months was temporarily suspended as gardai directed cars in the opposite direction away from the scene of the fire.

'It was absolutely frightening. It was devastation. the flames were definitely 20ft high. It was frightening', said Pat who was saddened to survey the aftermath of the fire on Monday morning. 'I was down again this morning. It was absolutely heartbreaking. It was awful to see how burned and ruined it was'.

The firemen reckon it was caused by someone using a barbecue which was madness in this weather. I went through the forest today and the number of areas where I saw burnt embers from fires was unbelievable', he said.

Pat took a video of the fire-fighting operation on his phone and uploaded on his Facebook page at 12.35 pm on Sunday with the message: 'Hope who started this can see what you have done and lives you have put in danger. Scum'.

By lunchtime on Monday, the video had been viewed 95,000 times and been show on RTE television with still images from it used in many national newspapers alongside article about the Curracloe beach fire.

Wexford People

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