Officials Assess Fire Damage in the South; Press Conference Highlights Response Efforts

Officials Assess Fire Damage in the South; Press Conference Highlights Response Efforts

As we await the rain, officials have been conducting regular assessments in the fire-affected areas, primarily in the south where as many as ten houses have been burnt down.  Today’s press conference, led by the Minister of Disaster Risk Management, Andre Perez, saw a wide array of speakers including the Nemo Coordinator, Daniel Mendez; the Chief Met Officer, Ronald Gordon; the Director for Belize Red Cross, Lily Bowman; the Principal Health Inspector, John Bodden; Edilberto Romero from Programme for Belize and representatives of the Department of the Environment.  These key players came together to meet with the media and to respond to questions arising from the past six weeks of wildfires.  For an overview of the findings to date, we join Benjamin Flowers.

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: For the past six weeks, residents and farmers in the south and west have been battling with bushfires that have destroyed crops including cacao and corn. For many families this is their livelihoods that have been decimated, leaving them empty handed and having to start from scratch. Some of these fires were due to the heat and spontaneous combustion that are deemed normal each year from February to late May. However, Chief MET Officer, Ronald Gordon indicates that many were intentionally lit.  

Ronald Gordon, Chief Meteorologist: “I must say that this is a human, mostly human induced fires. So there’s a big variable there that involves human activity. We know that we do have dry spells especially between the June, July, August period. So therefore if the human induced activity continues then there is likely that we’ll have more fires.”

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: About one week ago, the preliminary assessment had the value of damages at an estimated 3 million dollars.  Tonight, however, NEMO Coordinator, Daniel Mendez, noted an increase in that initial figure by some millions.  The figure is fluid as the damages continue in the affected areas.

Daniel Mendez, NEMO Coordinator: “There are upwards of four hundred families which have been impacted by this fire. This is spread across a space of twenty eight communities all across the district and up to now our assessments continue but we note it that there’s a minimum of six thousand acres of farmland which have been damaged. There has been also great loss damage to the environment and there is a lot of loss to livelihood. We also note that ten houses have been destroyed in two communities. There were eight in the Graham Creek Village and two in San Pedro Colombia. In the Mountain Pine Ridge we also noted that approximately 32,000 acres were affected in that area. However we have not yet been able to begin the assessment of the Cayo district to determine the total impact so far.”

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: Mendez noted that damage assessments will begin in the coming days.  A regular check on social media shows villagers pleading for help and manpower as the fires are not discriminating between night and day.  Government officials, including BDF soldiers and firefighters, have come out as well as volunteers from the surrounding areas; but could there ever be enough human power to battle these wildfires?

Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy and Disaster Risk Management: “When it comes to these types of disasters it’s never enough to have enough man power. To be honest with you it’s never enough. Anywhere where there is disaster there is never enough man power. But we’re working on it. It’s something that is very serious and as much manpower we are we want to commend the BDF for the great work they’re doing, the valiant work, including the fire department. There was an incident actually where two fire fighters in the Toledo district had to go and rescue this family that got displaced and got caught up in trying to save their farm. So man power is always something that will always be important we need more.”

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: Aside from the additional manpower that is needed, there is now the dire need for financial aid.  Farmers will need to replant; houses will need rebuilding and residents will need a head start to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy and Disaster Risk Management: “We’re talking about supplemental budget as well that has been approved which is a half a million dollars more or less and certainly more has to be approved with the funds that are needed. I can tell you that of course our international partners have reached out to us via the embassies. We have prepared reports already. We have submitted already what is needed and thankfully we have friends that are reaching out to us as to what is needed. So certainly in terms of providing for the livelihoods especially the farmers who have lost millions of dollars in terms of plantations, crop loss certainly the Department of Agriculture will be doing as well.”

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: The wildfires and the destruction left in its path are unprecedented for Belize.  According to Minister of Disaster Risk Management, Andre Perez, it is a lesson that the country cannot afford to ignore.  It is one that has highlighted the need for education in terms of preparing our lands and properties for these disasters

Andre Perez, Minister of Blue Economy and Disaster Risk Management: “It doesn’t happen overnight and we’re learning as we speak right now. This fire is historic. This is going down in the books as the largest fire ever recorded in history for us as a country, as an independent country. So it’s lots of work but I am confident. I am confident with my team, I am confident with this government, the departments we’re exhausted but we’re planning.”

Benjamin Flowers, Love News: The Belize Red Cross is also on the ground assisting the affected families.  Executive Director Lily Bowman says the assistance given comes in different forms ranging from fire safety to health precautions.  Financially, the organization is expecting some twenty thousand dollars in relief aid for the victims from the international federation.  Reporting for Love News, Benjamin Flowers.

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