Tue | Nov 30, 2021

Met Service developing bush fire index

Published:Thursday | March 19, 2020 | 12:00 AM
A man watches as bush fire rages in Mavis Bank in 2015.

The Meteorological Service of Jamaica is reporting some progress in the development of a reliable bush fire-warning index to help in determining the areas where bush fires are most likely to occur and act on this information to prevent them from getting out of hand.

In May 2015, fire destroyed 367 hectares of forest in the Mavis Bank area of Upper St Andrew.

Head of the Climate Branch in the Meteorological Division, Jacqueline Spence-Hemmings, told Farming Today that while the Keetch-Byram Drought Index created by John Keetch and George Byram in 1968 is commonly used for predicting the likelihood and severity of wildfires, her department is looking to refine the technique. Developed for the United States Department of Agriculture, its calculations are based primarily on rainfall and air temperate readings.

“As a scientific body, we recognise our role in ensuring that adaptation options are grounded in science in responding to issues such as climate change,” she explained. “It was decided that while this index works well, a customised version would do an even better job at forecasting fire potential, considering the topography of Jamaica on a whole, and the unique climatic conditions which exist in some parts of the country.”

Additional parameters

The additional parameters to be included are soil moisture, vegetation and elevation.

“This will allow the forecasting of fire potential in areas where meteorological data is currently collected so that early intervention by fire and disaster personnel is possible, to prevent the significant loss and damage associated with these fires,” Spence-Hemmings disclosed.

The funding for the project is provided through the Caribbean Development Bank Project under the African Caribbean Pacific-European Union-Caribbean Development Bank Natural Disaster Risk Management programme.