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‘A day I do not want to ever experience again’

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CLOSE CALL This picture taken by a drone camera emphasises how close houses in Sáile came to being gutted by last week’s gorse fire. Pic: Fionn Mangan

When I received a call Wednesday evening saying that a fire had broken out at the back of Derrowla Hill little did I know what was in store over the next 24 hours.
En-route to the fire it was clear to see that it was severe. The fire brigade had already arrived on the scene and they were battling the flames and soon after help arrived from the residents of the village of Sáile.
We battled the fire for four hours on Wednesday evening/night in an attempt to put it out and to our knowledge and the knowledge of the emergency services, we thought we were through the worst of it.
Thursday morning arrived and with it word came that the fire had broken out again. We made for the hill where we met our neighbours and we battled the flames together to the best of our ability.
Come 3.30pm we were on the hill again. As we neared the hill we saw our neighbour’s house was ready to go up in flames. We were met by droves of people and thick clouds of smoke. It struck me then just exactly how serious the situation had got and the little time we had to act.
The fire was blazing around the house and crowds of men and women from the community were battling the blaze as best they could. The panic and commotion was unbelievable, there were people running in every direction.
Suddenly I realised that the fire had spread across the road and was heading for my own house. I panicked instantly and darted down towards it. I was in disbelief.
The fire leapt the road like it wasn’t there and was spreading rapidly across the bogs. At this stage it was well and truly out of control.
We ran down the road away from the fire and began digging a trench between the house and the fire. Crowds of people began to gather and help us. We managed to dig a small trench and hoped that it would divert the fire away from the house.

‘Serious danger’
I was soon alerted that my family were told to evacuate our home, that our house was in serious danger and to take all our valuables that we owned out of the house.
On reflection, I didn’t even think about it and I ran directly for my house. But when I reached the gate and saw my neighbours emptying out all our photographs and clothes into the front garden, it gave me an indescribable feeling I’ve never felt before and never want to experience again. All I kept telling myself was ‘this is it, we’re gone’. I was sick to the pit of my stomach, it felt like hell on earth.
I began to grab whatever I could and started throwing it into the car, it was like a never ending nightmare, I couldn’t compose myself in any shape or form, I was genuinely terrified that the house was going to burn down.
I raced into the house, my mother was worried for our safety and wellbeing more than anything else and was getting together all our valued possessions whereas my father was anxious that we keep battling to save our home. It was horrific. We knew we had little time.
It was killing us all but we could only live in hope, people from all sides of the community were by our side and trying their best to battle the blaze and save our house.
The fire brigade arrived and they tried to reassure us that they would protect our property to the best of their ability but in a desperate time like that it’s very difficult to reassure people and we were no exception.
We got all we could into the car and I drove to the local school where the roads had been blocked off and left the car there.

‘Fire coming rapidly’
At this stage the fire was coming rapidly towards the house and we had connected up three or four hoses and were filling buckets of water with them outside the fence at the back of the house. At least 30 or 40 people were combating the fire and we attacked it in groups of five or six so nobody would be lost in the smoke. Our prayers were answered when the wind changed direction and three local men arrived with their tractors and bowsers full of water, it cannot be emphasised enough just how much these men helped us in our attempt to save our home and our  village alike.
We managed to divert the fire away from the house with about 30 yards to spare and thought we had it under control, but to our dismay it continued to spread through the bogs, rapidly heading  towards more houses. Word also broke that another house in mid Sáile was at a severe risk of being burnt down.
Thankfully so many people from the community had gathered to help and there were enough people to cover all the areas where the fire was threatening to get out of control. They managed to save the houses which were in danger. It was a tremendous community effort.
Personally I would like to thank all the people of the Achill community and surrounding areas who turned out in huge numbers to help save our village and homes and also to the emergency services, without these people it would be a much different and much more tragic story today.
The community spirit is well and truly alive in Achill and the village of Sáile and its residents will rise again from this truly terrifying experience.

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