Fire Chief Marlon Gentle yesterday announced that grassfires are on the rise, warning that the current dry weather conditions countrywide and the low level of water in canals could result in major catastrophes.
Citizens have been illegally setting fire to garbage and dry grass over the last few weeks, predominantly in villages stretching from Turkeyen to Mahaica, while canals are being filled with unwanted materials, making it difficult for fire fighters to access water when they respond to fire reports.
The Guyana Fire Service (GFS) has so far recorded 515 vegetation or brush type fires, up from the 203 recorded for the same period last year.
Gentle, speaking to the media at a press conference yesterday at the Home Affairs Ministry, said that the increase is believed to be due to the current excessive dryness. He stressed that over the last three to four weeks areas between Mahaica and Turkeyen have been visited by the fire service frequently because a lot of open areas such as large playfields and areas reserved for communal pastures have been converted into dumpsites.
Gentle pointed out that some of the infernos were set by persons and others resulted from spontaneous ignition. He said the fires pose a threat to infrastructure or residents. As a result, he urged all citizens to desist from setting fires and to seek proper avenues to dispose of their garbage or clear their lands to ensure the safety and the comfort of those around.
The Fire Chief also told reporters that the GFS has observed that the dry season would pose some difficulties, especially to fire fighting operations. He said that the level of water in some of the canals has dropped and that some of the canals are in urgent need of de-silting, not only removing the mud but garbage that has been dumped there. The clogged canals are of a major concern since it reduces the amount of water available at the time of a fire.
To relieve the situation, he said, the GFS has contacted the City Engineering Department and was given assurances that they would maintain a certain level of water in the canals for critical fire fighting operations.
With the dry season awareness has been increased, Gentle said, adding that so too has the level of response and capability.
He noted that the GFS realizes that it now needs to move to fire scenes with more water and to be more aggressive in some of its fire fighting operations. We have now taken the initiative as the Fire Service to understand that we have to be more reliable with our own water carrying capabilities. At least for our usual response, we have to move with larger volumes of water so that we can be more aggressive, he stated.
Gentle also said that the GFS is ready to embrace agencies such as the Agriculture Ministry, the Civil Defence Commission and the Guyana Forestry Commission to help deal with the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon that the country is enduring. He said it will give these agencies assistance when it is called upon.
To boost its ability to deal with the upsurge in vegetation fires, the GFS will be receiving additional pumps which will be arriving in the country shortly.
Quizzed about planes being used in fire fighting if a fire is to erupt in the forest, Gentle said that that could eventually happen especially if such a situation occurs.
Meanwhile, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee urged residents to desist from lighting fires, since it is an illegal act which carries a $7,500 fine. The Minister pointed out that while he knows that the burning of grass and garbage is an economical way to get rid of the waste, such a practice poses a danger to persons and there is the possibility that the fires could spread.
He said that he received a number of complaints about the effects of this practice, which are even occurring at community centres.
During the press conference, Gentle also expressed concern about the derelict buildings that are around the city and its environs as they pose a threat by fire and can collapse on persons. Gentle said that this concern was highlighted to the City Engineers Department.
Five fire tenders have arrived in the country to boost the GFSs current fleet, one of which will be sent to the Bartica Fire Station that is under construction.