Antigua and Barbuda — Dramatic increases of grass and bush fire incidences in the country have lead fire officials to remind the public again that lighting such fires without permits can be very dangerous and can have reaching repercussions.
Forensic Fire Investigator, Superintendent of Police Whitfield Joshua, said that in the same three-month period of Jan. 1 to March 31, grass fires increased by 294 per cent, 16 cases in 2008 to 63 cases in 2009; and bush fires increased by 136 per cent, jumping from 14 to 33 cases.
He said that it creates an extremely stressful situation both on personnel and equipment to include the appliances that are normally used to respond.
Its a concern because sometimes we are responding to 7 to 10 bush fires a day; its extremely taxing to the men and even though our appliances are fairly new, they are machines and just as humans they can only go so far.
So we are appealing to the public to think seriously about the effect of burning indiscriminately.
He believes that most, if not all, the grass and bush fires are man-made and therefore he is reminding the public, especially those responsible, that it is illegal to burn open flames in Antigua and Barbuda.
He said that one first needs to acquire a fire licence, which can be obtained from the fire department though a process that guards against accidental spreading.
Joshua said, The process involves you come to the fire station, you say what you are going to burn and where, an inspector comes with you (to) the site and do an inspection and make a determination whether there is any risk of fire spreading, whether the material to be burned can be burned in that area, and that depends on the close proximity of a built-up area or neighbourhood.
He said that certain materials, such as furniture, foam or other gas-forming materials, cannot be burned in a community because they can produce dangerous fumes such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide gas and even hydrochloric acid gas, which are extremely dangerous gases.
They can affect persons who breathe them in, plus can be trapped in homes or even on clothes that are drying outside.
Joshua said that if the inspector does not believe the material can be burnt in the area, then he can refer the applicant to the National Solid Waste Management Authority that offers burning services for free.
The Investigator said that they are not stopping anyone from burning, but instead are encouraging persons to ask for advice in order to control the fires, which can get out of control with the best of intentions.
Joshua said, We are always going to have a concern because the area is very dry and the least fire, with the weather as it is and the breeze, inevitably it is going to get out of control.
He reminded also that March 2009 is much drier than March 2008, which is further reason for controlled fires this year. He said that the bush and grass fires are primarily being caused by farmers who are preparing land with the expectation that when it does rain an abundance of green grass would come up in its place for their livestock.
The penalty for not having a fire license is a fine of $3,000 or six months in jail.
Overall, there has been an increase in fires in the same period from last year: 100 reported fires in 2008 to 201 reported cases in 2009, representing an overall increase of 101 per cent.
House fires moved from 19 in 2008 to 34 cases 2009 (79 per cent increase), vehicle fires moved from 7 cases to 12 cases (71 per cent increase), rubbish fires moved from 18 cases to 27 cases (50 per cent increase), and false calls moved from 5 to 12 (140 per cent increase). Business fires actually decreased by 20 per cent in this period from five cases in 2008 to four in 2009; Joshua said though that such fires usually occur in greater frequency later in the year.