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Fire chief wants immediate ban on outdoor fires

Published:Monday | July 6, 2015 | 3:41 PMChristopher Serju
Minister of state in the Ministry of Local Government, Colin Fagan (centre) seems transfixed by the information being shared by commissioner of the Jamaican Fire Brigade, Errol Mowatt (right). Director general of the Office of Disaster Preparedness, Major Clive Davis, also pays keen attention during yesterday’s press conference hosted by the ministry to address the spate of bush and other fires.

Errol Mowatt, commi-ssioner of the Jamaica Fire Bridge, wants an immediate islandwide ban on all open-flame fires in light of prevailing weather conditions that are fuelling the spate of bush fires and a drain on the brigade.

"To all citizens, absolutely no open fire must take place at this time. We can't say it can be done in certain places, because at the moment, every division, almost every community in Jamaica, is experiencing bush fires," the fire chief, yesterday, told a press conference at the Ministry of Local Government's Hagley Park Road, Kingston, offices.

"We are saying, absolutely no open burning. If it means that we must work with the police or any other agents of the State to ensure that we bring this to an end, then we will have to," Mowatt stressed.

Not enough resources

He explained that the fire brigade did not have the resources to take on all the fires now raging, given that some locations are inaccessible.

For this reason, the firefighters, especially those tackling the blaze scorching sections of the Westphalia area of rural St Andrew, since last week, have had to use unconventional methods, with the Jamaica Defence Force providing support.

"We have to walk those mountainsides with machetes and other implements to cut breakers and beat fires ... . That is indeed very, very dangerous," the veteran firefighter told the forum.

"Yesterday, we lost a fire unit and could have lost an entire team ... . Two of them remain in the hospital as we speak," Mowatt shared, but did not go into details.

In emphasising the importance for the public to desist from lighting outdoor fires for cooking, burning rubbish or any other purpose, the fire chief warned that human error could continue to prove very costly.

"The fires are not the result of spontaneous combustion. The fires did not start on their own. Somebody either carelessly or otherwise must have caused these fires, and it is a serious drain on the limited resources of the Jamaica Fire Brigade. I make an appeal to all citizens, whether you are farmers or any other group, to desist from the practice. Be careful how we use open flames given the weather conditions that prevail."

The installation of 75 new fire hydrants, repairs to 280 and routine maintenance of about 1,200 hydrants across the island will be funded from this year's Budget.