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Fire pressure

by Donna Sealy and Emmanuel Joseph

burningawayThe fire bug is biting harder in 2013 and the Barbados Fire Service is feeling the pain.

Deputy Fire Chief Errol Maynard, speaking to Barbados TODAY, noted that although bush fires were “normal at this time of the year” there has been a more than a 100 per cent increase over last year.

“Although that is the case, the number of fires we had for the year to yesterday evening was more than twice the number for last year. We had 210 for last year, and for this year we’ve had 479. I’m not sure how much we had for the day but we’ve had a significant amount of them in the St. Philip area, which is also normal given the vast amount of land and [the fact] that it is dry, and the land has cracks.

“This is what we call the busy time for the Fire Service which is due to the high number of grass fires,” he said.

The fire official is advising home owners and owners of plots of land to keep them clear, and have the grass cut as low as possible.

He also told Barbados TODAY that in addition to the fires in St. Philip today they received calls to Neil’s Plantation, in St. Michael, Belleplaine, St. Andrew, another in St. Lucy.

The situation however, has not escalated to the point where they have to cancel leave, Maynard said, but it has kept the on-duty staff very busy and with little “down time”.

“They’re managing so far. Basically, we’re operating at minimum in some cases with three men on a truck. They ask for help, we also get help sometimes from water carts, the plantations would give us help especially if it involves cane but [crews] would ask for assistance from other station areas and we have to do a combined effort in order to respond.

“This is the high time so it will peak between March and April and then it will peter off based on how fast the grass burns off and the Ministry of Agriculture calls us to assist with the cow itch [controlled burning],” Maynard said.

Maynard said that 30 cane fires had been recorded so far this year, an increase of two for the correspondent period last year.

And with this year’s sugar crop already down on last year’s, persistent fires are threatening to further reduce the 2014 harvest.

Manager of Lear’s Plantation Elvis Gittens, which had suffered declines in his crop due to devastating fires last year, is expressing fears that next season’s sugar crop could be undermined by the ongoing burning of canes.

He was speaking against the backdrop of a major blaze today that wiped out more than half dozens acres of bush and canes between Neils Plantation, that borders St. Michael and St. George and stretching about half mile along the western side of the ABC Highway.

Gittens said the current dry spell was not making matters any easier, neither was the existence of cow itch.

“In order to get rid of the cow itch, people are burning a small area, which will eventually spread to a wider area of canes. †That is what is happening now,” pointed out the agriculturalist.

Another cane farmer, who didn’t want to be identified, told this newspaper, the burning of canes would adversely affect the entire industry.

Agricultural officials have said that burned canes could affect the quality of the juice, by a reduction in sucrose.

They also indicate that once cane were destroyed by fire, they must be reaped immediately, failing which they could rot in the fields.

Barbados is expected to produce about 18,000 tons of bulk sugar this year, about 2,000 tons less than the year before.

The blaze at Neils Plantation this afternoon destroyed an abandoned chicken farm and at times, threatened a nearby Christian Brethren meeting hall. Members of the church could be seen busy trying to contain the spread of the fire by all means necessary, including the use of garden hoses and by swatting the burning brush with broken tree branches.††

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