Tuesday 17 September, 2019

Well over 3,000 bush fires reported nationally so far this year

A section of the residue of a fire which destroyed acres of bush land on the Kings House property in St Andrew earlier this year.

A section of the residue of a fire which destroyed acres of bush land on the Kings House property in St Andrew earlier this year.

The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) is under siege from a rash of spontaneous bush fires that have been raging all over the countryside as the island experiences a long, hot dry spell.

"Fires are breaking out in areas where flint stones exist. Also it's possible for broken glass to act as a magnifying glass and start a fire if surrounded by combustible matter," a representative of the brigade told Loop News reporter Claude Mills.

Since the start of the year, there have been 3,392 bush fires reported across the island, with the parish of St Catherine accounting for the largest number, a staggering 754 blazes - or 22 per cent of the total. There were 43 fires in St Catherine in January, spiking to 223 in March, before tapering off to a still eye-popping 116 fires in June.

The Kingston and St Andrew area is the region with the second largest number of conflagrations, with almost 12.6 per cent of the number of fires, a total of 430. In January, there were 47 fires, leaping to 105 in March, before settling down to 66 in June, making for a total of 430 fires across the two parishes since the start of the year.

The number of brush fires is trending upwards, like in parishes such as St Ann, which has seen an increase from 21 fires in January to 163 fires in June. St Mary soared from two fires in January to 116 in June; and Portland leaped from three fires in January to 62 fires in June.

Overall, there has been a 268 per cent increase in the number of fires from January 2019 to June 2019, this as Jamaica is in the middle of a sizzling hot spell during which temperatures have soared to record levels. 

The Met Office confirmed that temperatures, especially in Kingston and St Andrew, have reached new, sweltering heights. One of the six measuring stations, located in Shortwood, St Andrew, recorded a sweltering 39.1 degree Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday, June 22 - a full 3.1 degrees higher than what was recorded in June last year. Other significant jumps occurred in Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth, and Frome, Westmoreland, where temperatures reportedly also jumped big time.

A bush fire rages on the Kings House property in St Andrew earlier this year.

A pertinent question is whether this phenomenon is straining the meagre resources of the fire brigade.

"The Jamaica Fire Brigade is committed in carrying out its mandate of saving lives and protecting properties with whatever resources that is available. However most of these fires can be avoided if our citizens practise a fire safety culture," the representative said.

Years ago, the JFB embarked on a public awareness programme that was aimed at farming communities where persons often light fires to clear land for agricultural use.

In addition to the problem of deforestation, the irresponsible use of the slash and burn method of clearing land of vegetation can result in biodiversity loss, as various plants and animals that live in an area are may be destroyed. Fields may also gradually lose fertility due to loss of nutrients, the JFB representative said.

Research shows that killing all the insects and organisms on a particular piece of land on which the insects and organisms help to recycle nutrients, reduces the fertility of the land that farmers are looking forward to farm - so they end up using more fertiliser.

This process could lead to what is called a 'eutrophication' problem (an overabundance of nutrients) within the water system.

Furthermore, Jamaicans who continue to indulge in slash and burn practices could find themselves facing hefty fines in the region of hundreds of thousands of dollars, as parish judges are now more willing to apply higher fines and penalties in relation to the offence that is taking place,

Advisory from the JFB:

·         Don’t use fire to clear land.

·         Don’t burn rubbish, wait for the garbage collection.

·         Don’t light fire in open space.

·         If you must burn, use a metal drum.

·         Clear vegetation immediately around the house (To prevent fire from burning close to the house).

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