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Editorial: Creating safer communities

Published:Saturday | May 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We note with concern the impact of the massive fires now raging in the hilly regions of Mavis Bank and its environments which have left in their trail millions of dollars' worth of damage.

As yet, we do not know whether these fires were deliberately set, but we anticipate an early report from the fire department which will determine whether man had a hand in the destruction or whether it was simply a force of nature.

Fanned by strong, erratic winds, the fires, which have been raging for days, have burnt homes, destroyed infrastructure, crops and livestock, and have driven some residents from their homes. Coffee and banana plantations are said to be hardest hit.

The current dry conditions are taking a heavy toll on many hilly areas with dense vegetation, and there is now heightened risk of brush fires. Meanwhile, the task of extinguishing these flames is made more difficult for fire personnel who have to manoeuvre the rough terrain of these areas, which also lack a reliable supply of running water.

A public plea from the councillor for the area for help from the Jamaica Defence Force in putting out the fire, and the grim, nervous faces of residents painted a picture of helplessness in Mavis Bank.

BRUSH FIRES NOT NEW

For many residents in rural St Andrew, brush fires are not a new phenomenon. Climatic conditions in recent years have been producing severe dry weather and strong winds which, together, raise the potential for fast-moving wildfires. The frequency and intensity of blazes have been increasing.

What can be done to mitigate the physical and economic impact of these fires on farmers and homeowners and their properties?

Everyone knows that preparedness can make all the difference in a disaster. This explains why there is an Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, as well as disaster parish committees. We believe it is high time for an effective wildfire-protection plan to be put in place to prevent residents from becoming victims of future catastrophes. This calls for collaboration between related public bodies, relevant government ministries and departments, fire and disaster agencies, along with community members, meeting to discuss ways of implementing fire-mitigation strategies.

For example, are there fire-resistant plants that could be introduced in some of these areas? Should firebreaks be maintained in these hilly areas to help control fires? And who would provide assistance to the residents?

In order to create safer communities, information-sharing and education are important resources for residents who need to get expert advice about the kinds of protective measures they can adopt to protect their homes, farms and families. These residents need help in identifying their vulnerabilities and in developing strategies to overcome such challenges so they can reduce the potential to fall victim to the next fire.