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Fire could trap onlookers after destroying third of Ireland's largest forest

Onlookers are at risk of being trapped by a fire that has wiped out about a third of Ireland's biggest forest.

Gardai warned it is dangerous to enter the Cloosh Valley in Co Galway and said people and motorists trying to access the site near Moycullen and Oughterard are causing difficulties for emergency services.

About 1,600 hectares of forest owned by Coillte and 2,000 hectares of bog have been burnt in the fires, which are believed to have been started deliberately on gorse on neighbouring lands.

The area is also home to the Galway Wind Park, a joint venture between SSE and Coillte to build the country's biggest wind farm.

SSE said fires came within 40 metres of some of the partially installed turbines at the start of the week and fire crews fought the flames back to 300 metres away.

To date, there has been no visible damage to any of the infrastructure of the 169MW wind farm.

But a spokesman for SSE said: "F ull confirmation of the impact of the incident on installed wind turbines will not be possible until all fire events at the site have been fully brought under control and full inspections can be carried out."

Soldiers were deployed in the valley on Wednesday to beat out flames on low-lying vegetation in the area, a practice known as brashing.

Coillte and fire crews from Co Galway were in the valley from dawn trying to keep fires under control while civilian and Air Corps helicopters have been carrying out water drops using bambi buckets.

The Cloosh Valley is one of several dozen fires that hit lands owned and developed by Coillte with other badly affected areas in Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo and Cavan.

There have been scores of other serious fires including one that destroyed swathes of the Gougane Barra valley, Co Cork, last month.

"Coillte are urging the public stay away from any areas affected by these fires and to immediately report any uncontrolled or unattended fires," the state forestry agency said.

"Coillte greatly appreciate the tremendous assistance it continues to receive from the defence forces and emergency services."

Under wildlife conservation legislation it is illegal to set fires to growing vegetation between March 1 and August 31.

Gardai appealed to people not to enter the Cloosh Valley and said the Seanafeastin Road should be avoided except by emergency services and local residents.

"It is dangerous to enter and there is a possibility of becoming trapped. The public assistance in relation to this matter is appreciated," the Garda press office said.

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