Treat major wildfires as national disasters, urges JAS president

Treat major wildfires as national disasters, urges JAS president

14 May 2015

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Jamaica —  PRESIDENT of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), Senator Norman Grant says wildfires such as the ones that have been raging in the Mavis Bank area of the famous Blue Mountains, should be categorised as national disasters, based on their scale and potential for loss of property and lives.

He described the fires, which have torched hundreds of acres crops over the past two weeks, as “a disaster”, that should be treated as such. “The same way that floods and rains have the capacity to reduce production, to take life and property, the wildfire does that. Therefore, I would strongly suggest that the definition of a disaster (should) include fire as well. That is something that should be discussed and regulated,” Grant told the Jamaica Observer.

He also argued that the authorities need to look at re-establishing fire wardens, but lauded the response from the fire service, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), and the military, as “excellent”.

“It is very hard work. I give them full marks for efforts, but the reality is, it is very challenging,” he remarked.

Director general of the ODPEM, Major Clive Davis noted that fire management is included in the national disaster plan, but that it is the Jamaica Fire Brigade that would spearhead the operational and management activities related to major fires. He further pointed to examples such as the ebola scare, and the outbreak of chikungunya last year, as falling under the national disaster plan, but noted that all of those activities would be led by the Ministry of Health.

As set out in Jamaica’s fire management disaster plan, the plan is to be activated and used “in situations that may pose significant threat to national parks, forests, line facilities and government institutions, chemical and fuel spillage hazardous events, landfills, port facilities ship fires and any other situation which will require a co-ordinated multi-agency approach to fire response and management”.

Meanwhile, member of Parliament (MP) for Western St Thomas, James Robertson, on Monday complained that farmers in his constituency have reported significant devastation to crops and livestock.

Robertson has called the situation an emergency, stating in a release that the farmers have been “under siege” with large orchards of mangoes and ackees destroyed, in addition to small animals such as goats being affected. “The people fear continued devastation and unwarranted suffering,” the MP said.

He further said the situation of recurrent bush fires requires significant public education and that this is a task the JAS will have to undertake.

“We are going to engage the local authorities, the fire service, civil society, churches — we just should not light fires at all, because when they get out of control, they create so much destruction. We need to move away from slashing and burning. We have to engage the community, they are part of this process,” he said.

Grant acknowledged that he has received reports of affected areas in the Richmond Gap, and Mango Row areas of St Thomas, but would need to carry out further investigations. Last week, Grant said the fire could cause a potential loss of $120 million in coffee production, and further told the Observer on the weekend that he estimates that total damage could escalate to upwards of $500 million, including loss of income and damage to houses.

On Friday, the ODPEM declared that the Mavis Bank fire was under control, but up until yesterday, several communities in the hills of North East St Andrew were still being affected or threatened by the wildfire. These include Flamstead, Craig Hill, Lime Tree, Tower Hill, Salt Hill and Forest Park Hill.


Senator Norman Grant, President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society

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