80 percent of bush fires are deliberate
February 26, 2010
80 percent of bush fires are deliberate

Forestry Officer Joel Poyer is of the view that eighty per cent of the bush fires which have occurred in St. Vincent recently have been set deliberately.{{more}}

During an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, February 24, Poyer said that between December 2009 and now, 46 fires have been recorded on the Leeward side of the island, with approximately 36 “and counting!” on the Windward he said.

Poyer told SEARCHLIGHT that a recent bush fire caused great damage to the 18-year-old Zion Hill forest reserve on the Leeward side of the island. According to Poyer, the fire was set deliberately by two youngsters who were illegally hunting iguanas. The fire, which occurred on Sunday, February 21, began early in the evening and raged through the night. It destroyed over $35,000 worth of trees, including Mahogany, Neem, Eucalyptus, Yellow Pois, Mangoes and Guavas.

Poyer related that only 1.5 acres of the 14 acre reserve was destroyed by the fire. However, he added that it will take quite some time to revive the reserve. “Overall, that cost may be close to $80,000 to get it back to where it was. That is looking down the road, into a ten year period.”

Another Forestry protected area, a 3.5-acre forest in Jack Hill, Spring Village, was completely destroyed, Poyer said. The area had been under the protection of the Ministry of Forestry for 20 years.

Poyer explained the dangers of bush fires are numerous. Other than destroying forest, wildlife habitat and animals, it also causes air pollution, and leaves soil bare, susceptible to erosion.

Poyer mentioned an area in Buccament that was affected by a bush fire which he says has the potential for a serious landslide once in begins to rain.

“You are already seeing big rocks…you can have boulders coming down on people’s property and even into the road because of what has been done by the fires.”

He added that ten animals, including 4 sheep, 5 goats and one cattle have been killed by the fires.

In a press release issued on the February 22, 2010, Forestry Officer Bradford Latham said that fires are caused deliberately for several reasons including slash and burn methods of land cultivation, hunting or presumptuous reasons.

“Some people are just in the sport of lighting fires,” Poyer said. Fires are also caused by smokers who discard lighted cigarette buds.

He also warned that persons who light fires to hunt iguanas, agouti and manicou could be arrested and fined $5,000 or be sentenced to six months in jail as the hunting season for these animals is closed.

Furthermore, persons who light fires on crown land can be charged and fined $1,000 or be sentenced to six months in prison.

Poyer suggested that to prevent bush fires, persons should only light fires if it is necessary. He added that persons should never leave fires unattended; they should contain fires in a drum if possible or secure the area so that the fire will not spread and finally to seek the Ministry of Forestry’s permission to light fires on crown land.

Poyer pleaded with all persons who are lighting fires to desist from doing so, as they can be dangerous. He noted that the majority of bush fires are caused during times of drought, similar to what is presently being experienced.

So far for the month, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has recorded only 4 mm of rainfall, which is significantly below the normal average for February.

Meteorologist Antonio Joyette told Searchlight that the average rainfall recorded during the month of February over the last 30 years is approximately 91.5 mm. He said the last time St. Vincent and the Grenadines recorded such low rainfall figures in a single month was in April 1987 when 9.5 mm was recorded.