Belfast Telegraph

‘Suspicious’ forest blaze among spate of fires tackled by crews in Co Down

Families faced evacuation on Sunday due to the huge blaze in Donard Forest
Families faced evacuation on Sunday due to the huge blaze in Donard Forest
The huge blaze in Donard Forest
Firefighters tackled gorse fires in Co Antrim
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Police are treating the cause of a major forest fire in Co Down as suspicious.

The mile-long blaze caught hold in Donard Forest near Newcastle on Sunday evening, forcing the evacuation of a nearby caravan park. Residents on the Tullybrannigan Road were also affected.

It was one of a spate of wildfires across Northern Ireland over the past 48 hours. Fire crews also tackled a blaze in the Glens of Antrim yesterday.

The PSNI appealed for information on the Donard Forest blaze.

Detective Chief Inspector Will Tate said: "Our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) have now determined that it is likely that the fire was started deliberately and I am appealing to people to assist us in our investigation."

Anyone with information has been asked to call 101, quoting reference 1407 for April 21.

Emelyn Williamson (46), the manager of Bonny's Caravan Park, said all holidaymakers staying at the site had to be evacuated by around 10pm, with over 200 taking shelter at Newcastle Centre.

"This could have been something foolish that someone's done that maybe went too far. It's caused a lot of hassle to a lot of people," he said.

"I would hope they realise the consequences of their actions - I'm sure they do by now."

Mr Williamson added: "I've never seen a fire as close as that to the campsite before.

"There was a decent breeze with swirling winds, so you didn't know what way it was going to go.

"It was out of our hands what was going to happen, so it was just a case of keeping everybody safe and getting them out of there."

A total of 55 firefighters, eight fire appliances and two specialist appliances attended to tackle the flames, with visitors allowed to return to the campsite by 3am.

It is understood a change in wind direction prevented the flames spreading more closely towards the camp site.

Yesterday one crew remained at the scene to monitor any flare-ups.

DUP councillor Glyn Hanna's in-laws live on the Tullybrannigan Road. He called it "a massively frightening event".

He said: "I was down there on Sunday night and saw the fire. It was very substantial but the fire service did a very good job in controlling it."

In a separate incident yesterday, firefighters dealt with a gorse fire near Glenaan Road in the Glens of Antrim.

NIFRS sent five pumping stations and 32 personnel to the scene.

A spokesperson said the operation along the Antrim Plateau was being scaled down last night, but that fire crews had spent the day dealing with several other gorse fires across Northern Ireland as temperatures hit record highs for the Easter period.

"The crews have been trying to manage the fire and keep destruction down to a minimum, despite being hampered by strong winds," he said.

"The gorse fire has been under control but we will continue to assess the situation into the night."

Yesterday morning a second serious gorse fire threatened homes in west Donegal.

At least eight sections of the Donegal fire service were fighting the blaze which broke out between Loughanure and Annagry.

An Aer Corps helicopter and Irish army personnel were also dispatched to the scene to assist fire crews.

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