IN-BETWEEN the old mas of Carnival, when blue devils and dragons spit flames, there is a real fire that is of growing concern to the authorities. All indicators point to a particularly harsh dry season this year. Over in Tobago, bush fires have already started. Are we ready?
According to divisional fire officer David Thomas, there has been an increase in fires in Tobago and the hike is already pushing the Fire Service to the limit.
“We may be responding to as many as 15 fires per day and this is quite phenomenal,” Thomas said. “At that rate, we are going to have somewhere in the vicinity of 450 fires for the month.”
All efforts must be made to ensure fire officers receive the resources they need to combat the situation. This includes proper gear and tenders as well as systems to ensure safety is kept paramount. Officers should not be in a position where they have to stretch scarce resources to the limit. Something like the death of senior forest ranger II Keith Campbell should never happen again. Adequate provision should be made by the Tobago House of Assembly and, where applicable, the central government.
In this regard, we welcome plans to construct fire stations at Black Rock and Roxborough as these are long overdue. While these new stations will not be completed in time for this year’s season, they will nonetheless supplement the stock on the island in the long run.
The population, too, has a role to play. Prevention is always better than cure. All should desist from starting outdoor flames or, where unavoidable, obtain proper authorisation to do so. People would do well to consider the $20,000 fine and six months’ jail that is imposed on anyone flouting the law.
The Meteorological Service has already warned that we are in store for a harsh dry season.
“Rainfall will be scarce as gold,” said the service in an unusually-poetic 2019 Dry Season Outlook report. “Every drop of rainfall and water counts.”
The Met Service has urged citizens to reduce or cut off lighting outdoor fires. But also it has advised that people should nonetheless make plans to deal with the effects these fires have. This includes having a plan to cope with poor air quality due to smoke. Such a plan could involve remaining indoors, keeping doors and windows shut, placing air-conditioners on recirculation mode and keeping car vents and windows closed while driving. It is also important to prepare for extreme heat, and for water shortages. Water conservation and appropriate usage are key.
The damage caused by bush fires is not limited to destruction of flora and fauna and the loss of wildlife habitat. These fires also make flooding in the rainy season more likely. We therefore need to prepare.