Trinidad and Tobago– Acting Chief Fire Officer Kenny Gopaul says the penalty for lighting fires without a permit should be increased, as bush fires continue to wreak havoc across the country.
Speaking with the Express yesterday, Gopaul said people continue to indiscriminately light fires, believing that they can control them. But often these fires raged out of control and spread, he said.
The country is currently in bush fire season which runs from December 1 to June 30 each year.
For the season this far, the fire service has responded to 381 reports made through its 990 emergency line, Gopaul said. He said many more reports were made directly to individual fire stations.
Tobago has reported 52 bush fires for the season thus far.
In 2015, more than 4,000 bush fires were reported in Trinidad and 459 in Tobago.
Gopaul said persons who need to light a fire must obtain a permit to do so and seek the supervision of a fire guardian from the fire service. He said persons have no excuse not to do this as fire permits cost just $10 and the services of fire guardians are free to the public.
People disregard that totally. They always feel they can control it and it goes beyond their control and just runs wild.
He said persons simply need to go in to any fire station and make a request.
However he said persons were still choosing to light fires on their properties without supervision, resulting in damage to properties.
We have had five buildings including a school and a warehouse being lost to fire because of a bush fire, he said.
He said an increase in the penalty for lighting fires without a permit should be increased to act as a deterrent.
The current fine is $1,500 and a six-month prison term.
In addition to persons lighting fires on their properties, Gopaul said many of the bush fires reported resulted from persons improperly discarding cigarette butts. He said many bush fires along the highways were because of persons throwing their smoldering cigarettes through their windows as they drive by.
He urged persons to be more considerate and aware of their actions.
Gopaul said the effects of bush fires remain long after the fires have been put out.
Because when they burn, especially in the hillside, when the rainy season comes, we will have erosion of the soil into the waterways, causing backlog and flooding. Now we wont have dry land but we will have flooding into peoples homes and business places. There is a high price to pay for bush fires.
He said persons can reduce the risk of bush fires by keeping their surroundings clean and grass cut. He added that when burning outdoor fires, persons should do so at night, when wind is low, and in small heaps.
He said the fire service is sufficiently equipped to respond to bush fires but have had to prioritise those that threaten homes or disrupt traffic, when numerous fires occur at the same time.
The following are tips from the fire service on how to prevent bush fires:
Creating and maintaining a Fire Trail around all structures by removing flammable vegetation.
Ensuring grass and lawns on the property are mown.
Storing rubbish bins, refuse and other flammable items away from buildings.
Creating a maintenance program for the daily removal of leaf litter and other flammable waste from around buildings.
Clearing bark and leaves from roof gutters, timber decks and other areas that may trap embers.
Enclosing under-floor and under-deck areas with ember proofing.
Ensuring all windows, doors and screens will close and seal to prevent embers and smoke entering buildings.
Removing dead branches, leaves and undergrowth from around your home especially under trees.
Reducing, removing and managing vegetation such as long grass within 20 metres of your home and within 5metres of any sheds and garages.
Pruning tree limbs that are lower than two metres above the ground or overhanging your home.
Removing bark, heavy mulch, wood piles and any other flammable materials close to your home and sheds.