USA CHATTANOOGA (Tenn.) Raging, drought-induced wildfires have created a thick level of smoke in the Chattanooga valley.
According to Hamilton County school officials, smoke from those nearby wildfires kept some students inside for recess.
But at one older school, smoke filled the hallways and classrooms, prompting more than fifty parents to pick up their children from school.
At Chattanooga School of Arts and Sciences, the thick smell of it remained, hours after school officials say the sight of it disappeared.
“You could visibly see smoke in the hallways, at the top of the hallways, in the cafeteria, places like that,” says Principal of the upper school, Jim Boles.
Boles believes the smoke filled the school because of students coming into the building, in addition to the school’s air conditioning units.
“Students coming in the doors, we also have window AC units, so the air from outside was being sucked into the school.”
More than fifty children were checked out of school by their parents.
Latrice Edwards is one of them.
“It was optional, if we felt our child has allergies or asthma, you know, you could come pick them up or not, it’s up to you,” she says.
Edwards’ daughter is a tenth grader who is sensitive to smoke.
“She does have allergies and she was complaining of her eyes itching and burning,” adds Edwards.
She applauded the school for notifying parents so quickly, and allowing the day to count as an excused absence.
Principal Boles says it’s important for parents to have that option if their child has breathing issues.
“At their discretion, they could check out students today for their own health reasons,” he says.
Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion
Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.
Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.
However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.
The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.
People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires, he said.
To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.
In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.
We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them], he warned.
However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.
In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.
We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation, advised the minister.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.
This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future, said Oomen.
Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.
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