Things you need to know about Country Fires Act
Many persons are still unaware of the provisions of Jamaica's Country Fires Act, which is aimed at preventing loss of life, property and environmental degradation and which covers, among other things, the igniting of fires in the open.
Under the act, any person who sets fire to any trash on any land, without giving seven days prior notice to the officer or sub-officer in charge of the nearest police station and the occupiers of all adjoining lands within a half mile radius; and fails to clear an open space of at least 15 feet in width around the trash and remove all inflammable material, shall be guilty of an offence.
Section three of the act also addresses the destruction of crops, stating that every person who sets fire to my crop shall be guilty of an offence, except in the case of sugar cane, "for the purpose of ridding it of any vine or other pest".
Night fires are also prohibited under the act. Any person who sets fire to any trash between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unattended is guilty of an offence. Likewise, a person who leaves any fire he may have lit or used in the open air, unattended, before it is thoroughly extinguished, is also guilty of a breach.
Fires caused by negligent smokers are also addressed. Persons who, by smoking any pipe, cigar, or cigarette, in any plantation, except within a dwelling-house on such plantation, endangers any buildings, fences, lands, cultivated plants, or other property, are in contravention.
The act also gives certain agents of the state special powers during a fire. "Where a fire has broken out on, or come on to, any lands, any officer or sub-officer of police, forest officer, or agricultural warden, may enter upon the land where such fire may be, and upon any land to which it is likely such fire will spread, and do all such things or acts, including the cutting of any fire trace, as may be reasonably necessary for the purpose of extinguishing, or preventing the spread of, such fire" the act says.
It says these state agents, may also, if necessary, call upon every able-bodied male, between age 14 and 60, who may be within a reasonable distance of the fire, to assist in extinguishing, or preventing its spread and that "every person so called on who omits or refuses to render all reasonable assistance shall, unless he has some reasonable excuse, be guilty of an offence".
Many persons are of the view that the fines for offences under the act, are relatively small. All persons found guilty of an offence against the act, on summary conviction before a resident magistrate, are liable to a fine not exceeding $2,000, or a maximum of three months' imprisonment with or without hard labour. This also includes persons who cause, permit, allow, or assist, any other person to commit an offence against the act.