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That raging inferno - Ballards Valley residents remember bush fire that destroyed homes, crops

Published:Monday | January 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Alvin Gayle tends to his crops in Tryall, St Elizabeth.
Carlton Bent prepares to draw water from the little that is left in the bottom of his tank in Tryall, St Elizabeth. - Photos by Ian Allen/Photographer
A bush fire rages out of control in the hills of St Elizabeth in April 2005. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

Daviot Kelly, Staff Reporter

With reports that Jamaica will face another severe dry season, the possibility of bush fires is always present.

Communities like Ballards Valley in St Elizabeth are always prime candidates. Alvin Gayle knows that all too well as one of those bush fires took his home in 2005.

"Di fire tek everyting man, all mi clothes," he recalled. "All mi garden, mi did lef wid nutt'n fi work wid."

It's been a few years since the last major fire scorched the land, and his neighbour, Joseph Elliott, is grateful for that.

"God has been good to us," he said. "We haven't had a fire of that magnitude since then."

Elliott said residents are taking care when burning anything as they know the winds whipping up from the coast can easily turn a small brush fire into a raging inferno.

Ironically, it was men burning a heap on the coast that led to the last major fire. One of the worst hit areas during that one was the community of Tryall. Leo Bent was incredulous how quickly the fire spread.

"You shoulda si how it race up di hill, from all di way down deh suh," he said.

Ava Sellars was still thanking the heavens her home was spared.

"Is right at the back of my house it came," she said, while opining the time seems even more dry now. This, residents fear, would make things worse this time around.

Shop owner Winston Wright said most homes only had "one likkle keg" and that was for domestic use, not fighting fires. With their personal water supply dwindling, they feel like the figurative sitting ducks.

"Our tank dry about three months now. In di last fire, wi had water, could help out likkle bit, but not now," said Bent. He's not even optimistic the Junction Fire Department would be able to do much as the area is very rugged.

"Even if the fire truck come, dem cyaa go no further than the main road," he said, pointing to the wide land space the last fire touched. Elliott said in the event of a fire neighbours were always ready to lend a hand to save each other.

"Our people here are of such nature they will tell the fire brigade, 'Take your pump and take it out of my tank'," he said. "They're not going to just let anybody lose everything."

But despite their best efforts, the actions of a few still require them to keep alert. Gayle noted that more than once, he has had to put out fires started from people coming from parties who throw away unsnuffed cigarettes. They will continue to do what they can to prevent fires.

"We don't burn our garbage anymore," said Sellars. "We just make sure wi bag it up, and wait for the garbage truck. It's the best option."

She said the truck doesn't come every week, but the potential danger is enough to deter them from burning.