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Gilliland farm fire: Three-day blaze which destroyed sheds was ‘not malicious’

By Donna Deeney

Published 05/01/2016

The scene at Gilliland's farm on the Culmore Road. Picture Martin McKeown
The scene at Gilliland's farm on the Culmore Road. Picture Martin McKeown
The scene at Gilliland's farm on the Culmore Road. Picture Martin McKeown

A fire at a farmyard in Londonderry has now been fully extinguished after a three-day operation involving 45 firefighters.

By the time the Fire Service arrived at the Gilliland farm in Culmore in the early hours of Saturday morning, they were met with a blaze that was already well established.

Inside two huge sheds was around 600 tonnes of wood pellets destined to be used as fuel in eco-friendly heating systems in businesses, schools and homes across Northern Ireland.

The entire stock has been lost and a third shed containing machinery was also destroyed.

The owner, John Gilliland, who has long been hailed as a pioneer of green energy, planted 180 hectares of willow trees over a decade ago which are harvested every three years and converted to wood pellets stored inside the sheds.

Over the weekend thick smoke hung over the Lough Foyle valley making driving extremely difficult due to severely reduced visibility.

Police had also advised people living in the Culmore area to keep their windows and doors shut.

At its peak, 45 firefighters were at the scene along with six appliances, although as the weekend progressed this was reduced until the incident was finally declared over late on Monday afternoon.

Fire Commander Kevin Lynch described the three-day call-out as “long and arduous”.

He said: “This has been a big operation for the Fire Service which began in the early hours of Saturday and continued into Monday.

“During the weekend we managed to excavate 400 tonnes of burning material out of the sheds, which we then extinguished and made safe.

“On Monday the remaining 200 tonnes were excavated and extinguished.

“This was a dangerous operation because of the amount of material in the shed.

“Although there was nothing explosive contained in the sheds, the sheds became very unstable because of the fire and we had a structural engineer on site to assist us.

“We were helped greatly by the owner who brought in contractors with diggers to assist us in removing the material from the buildings.”

A team of Fire Service investigators moved on to the site yesterday afternoon as soon as it was declared safe to establish the exact cause. Early indications show it was not started maliciously.

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