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FIRE Watch! Firefighters' resources depleted, will have to watch fires burn

Published:Thursday | May 14, 2015 | 12:00 AMGary Spaulding
A bush fire, which has been raging in Western St Thomas.
A bush fire, which has been raging in Western St Thomas for more than a week, threatens this house in Gordon Castle, Llandewey, St Thomas. The fire, which is believed to be caused by unwise slash-and-burn practice, has caused massive devastation in the surrounding areas of Richmond Gap, Orange Tree and Albion Mountain. Thousands of fruit trees, such as mangoes and ackees have been destroyed. Several goats have perished in the blaze.

Resources employed to combat the Mavis Bank inferno are running at an all-time low, as the raging flames show no sign of retreating.

Not only are the areas that are under coffee and other production being burnt into oblivion, but the fires have succeeded in consuming available resources including foiling the efforts of the firefighters.

Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) Major Clive Davis signalled yesterday that depleted resources have yielded to the dominance of the merciless conflagration ripping through precipitous terrains in east Rural St Andrew.

"After putting in place the necessary mechanism such as fire breaks, some fires will have to be left to burn themselves out," said Davis. "We are, however, mindful that as the fires continue, they have the potential to rid the slopes of vegetation, exposing them to possible landslides when the rains return."

Davis stressed that this was being viewed as a clear and present danger which must be managed.

He said added burden was being placed on available resources with similar fires in Jacks Hill; Stony Hill; Lawrence Tavern; Constitution Hill; Guava Ridge; close to Gordon Town; as well as in the parishes of Clarendon and St Elizabeth.

"While they have been responding to all the calls, in keeping with all the accepted protocols, their order of priority has and will always be to save lives first, followed by structures such as as dwellings," he said.

The Mavis Bank area, famed for its internationally renowned top-quality coffee, has been under multiple fires over the past three weeks.

"The terrain is inhospitable and unforgiving," asserted Davis at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing.

Davis said that the Jamaica Fire Brigade has requested assistance from the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) in the form of fire drops, using helicopter and bammy buckets.

"The fires are predominantly in wooded or forested areas and based on the nature of this element, it did not only threaten but damaged crops and property," said Davis.

He said the unyielding nature of the blaze forced the ODPEM to draw on the expertise of several key agencies.

Davis noted that the Forestry Department; the Rural Agricultural Development Authority; the Jamaica Fire Brigade; the JDF ; the National Water Commission; the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation and the Ministry of Health were summoned.

"The aim of the meeting was to look at the resources that might be required to bring to bear on the situation," said Davis.

He revealed that based on the nature of the terrain and the remoteness of some of these fires, it had become necessary to have firefighters hike in some of the areas and employ 'non-water' methods to kill the raging fires," he added

Based on a change and requirements of human resources, Davies said the Fire Brigade sought assistance from the JDF. "The chief of defence staff threw support behind the effort," he said.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Davis said firefighting teams commenced another high-risk practise to combat the blaze.

"We have been inserting firefighting teams fitted with portable back packs; they are airlifted and inserted into the hot zones," said Davis. "[But] there are increased risks to personnel, helicopter and crew ... ."