Fire brigade says 75 per cent of calls relate to bush fires
Farmers urged not to burn lands during drought
The Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) is urging residents, especially farmers, to desist from using the slash and burn method of clearing land in times of drought.
Slash and burn is the cutting and burning of trees as a method of clearing the land for cultivation.
The call comes in light of a recent bush fire in Malvern, St Elizabeth, which destroyed hundreds of acres of farm lands and damaged property as well as farm supplies.
Public Relations Officer at the JFB Emeleo Ebanks said bush fires have resulted in millions of dollars in losses to farm supplies, impacting produce for exports and local consumption as well as loss of livestock and property.
He adds that during this time of year, 75 per cent of calls to the Jamaica Fire Brigade are related to bush fires. These, he said, are caused mostly by simple human errors.
"So, we have to stress the importance of not lighting any fires at all at this time of the year, because once it starts... it is going to go literally like a wildfire," Ebanks said.
He pointed out that farmers can utilise other means of clearing their lands, such as utilising the dried leaves and trees as mulch.
"Once you plant, then you spread it (dried leaves and trees) over the area and it will help to keep the ground temperature lower than normal, so it will keep cool and offer some amount of moisture," Ebanks says, noting that this will result in better yields.
Acting Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Richard Thompson said farmers need to be aware of the effects that bush fires will have on the environment and their future crops.
He points out that severe bush fires will remove the humus from the soil and affect its fertility.
Thompson pointed out, too, that fire removes vegetation from the land and this results in erosion.
"When you have rainfall immediately after that, what you tend to get is more run-off than infiltration and you tend to have a lot of land slippage," he said.
He further explains that this results in blockage to drains and contributes to flooding. The ODPEM head is therefore urging farmers and other individuals to take precautionary measures to prevent the occurrence and spread of bush fires. These include: not using fires to clear land, especially during this period of drought; and never light a fire in an open area when it is windy, as sparks may blow about and cause fires to spread.
Persons who smoke should also ensure that cigarette butts, matches and other lighted materials are extinguished before disposal.
As a precautionary measure, residents are also urged not to provide the fire with fuel. Thompson says a firebreak may be constructed around the house to protect house and property.
"However, if your house is threatened by a bushfire, you should move firewood, dried grass or bush and other things that will cause the fire to spread away from your house," he advised.
In the meantime, Ebanks said at this time of the year the resources of the Jamaica Fire Brigade are stretched. However, he is urging persons not to hesitate in calling the fire brigade once a fire has started.
"What we have found is that some persons will try to utilise other means to put the fire out and when it gets out of control (that) is when they actually call us," Ebanks said.
He emphasises that it is in the best interest of residents to call the fire brigade immediately and the JFB will do its best with the available resources.