Bushfires on the rise in Belize, prompt community and government action
Over the past week, our newsroom has noticed an uptick in reports of bushfires posing risks to residents from across the country. The issue has resulted in residents and local governments pitching in to fight the fires. Reporter Vejea Alvarez tells us more.
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Residents across the country say they are suffocating from plumes of smoke being thrust into the air. A recent uptick in bush and wildland fires has resulted in acres of vegetation being reduced to ash and rubble. In Garden City, Belmopan, residents of the J & W area spent a week battling harmful fumes and huge flames. Susely Valdez, a resident of the area, explained how devastating the impact was.
Susely Valdez, Resident of J&W Area, Belmopan: “It was really bad because in the house it was very smokey and the ashes that were let go from the fire were all in the house even though the house was locked up they still managed to get in. In the night even after the fire had died down we personally had problems sleeping because it was burning within my nose and my chest, it was really frustrating.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Fortunately, after days of working tirelessly, Belmopan firefighters were able to extinguish the flames. But what led to the blaze? Robert Matus, the Belmopan City Council’s Compliance Director, says the fire was caused by persons burning garbage.
Robert Matus, Compliance Director, Belmopan City Council: “What they do they find places that they don’t have to take it to the dump site or call the Belmopan City Council for assistance and they create their own dumpsite they take it by the outskirts like Belmopan like I would say John Saldivar Boulevard, places that nobody can catch them and when the dry season comes and if you would throw even a glass or somebody would even throw a cigarette butt that would ignite the fire. And this is why these fires are coming up.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: And, while that blaze was the result of human negligence, Deputy Chief Forest Officer, John Pinelo Jr. explained that several outside factors have led to an uptick in wildland fires.
John Pinelo Jr, Deputy Chief Forest Officer: “The climate change issue is real and every year we notice that it gets hotter and hotter, it gets drier and we have more fires occurring and this is all because of climate change. A big portion of the fire is human related as well. People either recklessly or intentionally burn fires, this is the time traditionally when they burn either burn for milpa or burn savanas so they can hunt when the young grass comes out and they can shoot the deer and the Gibnut. But those traditional activities are now exacerbating the issues we have when it comes to heat and fire. Additionally we had a hurricane a year ago that left a lot of fuel on the ground, all of those leaves and branches and sticks that fell on the ground are now fuel to be burnt.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: And, the smoke created by the flames as they fan out also poses a health risk not only to residents but to the environment as well.
John Pinelo Jr, Deputy Chief Forest Officer: “Increased fires mean increased damage and so we know that there is an increase in environmental damage and in loss of different habitats that the fire burned. I think we have done a good job at letting people know but as I said a big portion of this is tradition and the other part is just nature taking effect with climate change. All of us travel the highways and we see the fires burning all over the place. I flew into the country last week Monday and through that little window of the plane I could count fifteen fires near the airport. Those things some of those are natural but most of them are lit by people.”
Vejea Alvarez, Love News: Pinelo added that all in all fire prevention is everyone’s business. He shared some dos and don’ts to ensure residents can do their part.
John Pinelo Jr, Deputy Chief Forest Officer: “ I’d just like to remind the public of the activities and the safety activities they need to take into place when they are lighting fires. If you don’t have to burn right now please don’t because it’s already hot it will just probably get out of hand and you won’t be able to manage the fire. Burn in the evenings when it is cooler and don’t burn if it’s too windy. Additionally don’t light fires and walk away and leave it. Legally you should make a fire pass around where you’re going to burn so the fire doesn’t jump into somebody else’s property.”