Judge slams ‘reckless, dangerous and self-serving’ behavior and actions
AN Achill man who lit a gorse fire on the island that burned for three days and resulted in the evacuation of up to a dozen homes claimed he was burning heather to clear a path to the shore to go fishing.
Martin Patten (74) of Derrowla, Sáile, Achill, pleaded guilty at last week’s sitting of Achill District Court to criminal damage in connection to the burning of gorse in the village of Sáile, on May 10, 2017.
The fire which started at 7.30pm near the shore at an area known as the Gleann in Sáile quickly spread across the hill, forcing the evacuation of the houses. A number of Fire Service units from across the county and 300 volunteers tackled the fire for up to three days before it was eventually brought under control. Inspector Gary Walsh said that one property sustained €2,854 worth of damage. The Fire Service call-out bill was €28,000; the ESB bill was €1,730 and the Eir bill was €5,510. All in all, the final figure, which included these costs and more, comes to over €38,000.
Insp Walsh clarified that the Fire Service would not be pursuing the costs for the call-out and nor would the ESB or Eir.
‘I panicked, I suppose’
Mr Patten, a retired carpenter and father of three, told Judge Mary Devins he started the fire to make a path to a fishing area by the shore. He said he wanted to fish for pollack but could not access the shore due to the size of the heather.
When asked by Judge Devins if he raised the alarm, Mr Patten said he did not, saying, ‘I panicked, I suppose’. Inspector Walsh informed the court that Mr Patten passed gardaí on the road to the fire. When he was asked why he did not tell the gardaí there was a fire, his answer was, ‘The smoke was over the hill, you could see it.’
Insp Walsh said that if it was not for the hundreds of locals who battled the fire over the three-day period, the blaze could have had untold consequences. “God knows what the damage could have been,” he said.
Mr Gareth Bourke, solicitor for Mr Patten, said his client regrets what happened and acknowledged his actions were foolish. He said he had no idea that the fire would grow the way it did.
Mr Patten told Mr Bourke he was never in trouble before, and that he was embarrassed and very sorry. Despite the fire, he continues to live in his family home and there are no issues with his neighbours.
Not a ‘townie’
Judge Devins questioned why Mr Patten started the fire, saying he was not a ‘townie’ who did not understand what would happen if he burnt heather on a hot day in May. When she asked if compensation had been arranged, Mr Bourke said ‘not yet’ but that he is willing to pay.
Judge Devins described Mr Patten’s behaviour and actions on the day as reckless, dangerous and self-serving because he ran away and did not attempt to alert the Gardaí. She said this was an enormously serious issue and rejected a request by Mr Bourke for a probation report.
However, Mr Patten was remanded on bail until January 11 for the question of compensation to be addressed and to decide penalties.