Jamaica — Billions of dollars go up in smoke every year in Jamaica, and long after the smoke clears the national fire service is still being choked by an inability to determine the cause of the majority of infernos that burn across the island annually.
Data gleaned from several editions of the Economic and Social Survey Jamaica (ESSJ) showed that between 2007 and 2011 some 54,598 genuine fires, roughly 11,000 each year during the period under review, blazed on the island.
While the majority of the fires were bush fires, the ESSJ 2008 noted that close to $7 billion worth of property was incinerated by infernos in 2008 alone.
“The value of property damaged by fire was estimated at $6.9 billion. Losses were largest in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA) ($2.4 billion), St Thomas, ($2 billion), and St Ann ($520 million). Trelawny with $73 million had the lowest level of losses,” read a section of the ESSJ 2008.
Meanwhile, Senior Deputy Superintendent Floyd McLean, second in command in the Jamaica Fire Brigade’s (JFB) fire prevention division, revealed that there were 10,979 fires in 2011.
No cause has been determined for 80 per cent (8,249) of them.
The ESSJ 2008 showed that there were 10,916 genuine fires reported across the island during that year, a 15.6 per cent increase relative to 2007. “The majority of fires (58.6 per cent) were bush fires, accounting for 6,402 of the total. Structure fires (including houses and other buildings) totalled 1,393. The remaining 3,121 were varied and included motor vehicles.”
The 2008 survey advanced that the high numbers for the urban areas, especially in KSA and St James, may be attributed to a number of factors, including the density of improvised housing units, and the high level of electricity theft. Hanover, St Catherine and St Thomas had the least number of persons left homeless, the report added.
McLean was not sure what happened to insurance claims when firefighters are unable to determine the cause of the blaze. However, he theorised that the claimants could not be penalised in such cases, especially if there is no suspected foul play.
While admitting that there is a need for more fully trained fire investigators to reduce the overwhelming number of unsolved fires, McLean believes the primary reason the cause of most fires remains undetermined is because the investigators are not left with much after a building is burnt to the ground. “We have a lot of undetermined fires. When a building is burnt out completely you will end up with a high level of undetermined cause of fire. Sometimes you can’t find the point of origin,” he lamented.
He added: “The level of destruction of the building is the major cause of most fires remaining unsolved.”