Regional

Anxious moments as limping Fire Brigade fights blaze in Buff Bay

BY EVERARD OWEN Observer correspondent editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 22, 2014    

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BUFF BAY, Portland — Portland firefighters fought hard between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to contain a bush fire that threatened the Woodstock Housing Scheme in this rural town.

They also had to battle with poor resources to get the job done as the Buff Bay Fire Station, which has been without a fire truck for the past nine months, had to rely on the one unit assigned to the station in the parish capital of Port Antonio. However, like a stroke of bad luck, a tyre on the fire unit got punctured when it was ready to leave late Tuesday night to refill its water tank. The problem was sorted out, but the Port Maria Fire Brigade from the neighbouring parish of St Mary had to work to bring the blaze under control Wednesday morning.

"The basic challenge we face here is the terrain, so what we are doing is trying to make a line so that the fire does not spread to the houses and cause any damage, [but] we are doing our best to contain it," District Officer Kamoy Smith of the Port Maria fire service said Wednesday morning.

"We try to avoid the falling rocks as the vegetation has been burnt, and when the rocks become loose it is added stress. We have to be careful how we traverse the terrain, but we are trying to provide the best service with the limited resources," he said.

While the brigade worked to sort out it resource problems Tuesday night, some terrified residents of the Woodstock Housing Scheme looked on helplessly. Others had their hoses and buckets with water ready in the event they were asked to help get the raging fire on a hill just behind their homes under control. Some, however, got into action as they 'helped' the firefighters.

"It has been quiet frightening, and we came together as a team because of the lack of adequate fire trucks to deal the matter," said one resident. "The time is dry and we know what it can do," he added.

Said another resident: "About two o'clock (Wednesday morning) we were inside and see it, and by three o'clock it was in the backyard and we used hoses, buckets and everything to wet it up. It was like the whole hillside ah burn ah come down. Everybody come out and a help dem neighbour a put out the fire because one truck couldn't help."

Residents, at the same time, lamented the absence of a fire truck in Buff Bay.

"Buff Bay fire service covers a very wide area, and for months now its has without a fire engine. All of us now are fretting as the fire has not been contained, and eventually it could affect the houses," the resident told the Jamaica Observer Tuesday night on the scene. "Something has to be done for us so we can get a fire engine as the fire truck from Port Antonio came here twice yesterday, and last night when it came 'brup' two of the tyres burst and the hose burst too. I don't know what is happening when it come to the maintenance of the units. The hill is burning for so long and I think they could get a helicopter to contain the fire up on the top of the hill," he added.

Residents also lamented the possibility of landslides because of the destruction of the trees on the hill.

"All of those vegetation is gone and then the rocks are going to fall... and you know what is going to take place. Many of us will have to find some money to fix up our houses," said one senior citizen.

In a statement yesterday, member of parliament for West Portland Daryl Vaz said the absence of a fire truck in Buff Bay has added to the already serious inability of the fire service in Portland to cope with the number of bush fires in the parish.

Vaz called on Local Government Minister Noel Arscott to immediately allocate another fire truck temporarily to Buff Bay while allocating the necessary funds to fix the truck that was taken out of service as well as repair the hydrants out of commission, including three in the Woodstock Housing Scheme.

Vaz also called on the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management to immediately activate a protocol among the Rapid Response, National Water Commission, and the Portland Parish Council to allow for the trucking of water to be available both to the fire service and communities day and night to assist them in fighting fires, based on the inability of the fire service to adequately respond to demands.

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