122 forest fires for 2023 so far

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

A fireman attends to a bushfire in Toco in this 2021 file photo. –

Denny Dipchansingh, conservator of forests of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries’ Forestry Division, has said there have been 122 recorded forest fires from December to now, most of which have been in the northern region of Trinidad.

“We have had a fair amount of fires, but all suppressed and under control thus far. These are suppressed both ways: we have something called a fire escape, which is a water tank mounted on a mini Hilux. We have a water tank and trained individuals attempting to suppress it – and then most of it is also manual attack, where you have individuals actually going out there and trying to clear the fire traces and debris.”

He noted that there has been an increase in backyard fires, and reminded people of the dangers of this and the fines for lighting these fires illegally. If necessary, people are urged to acquire a ministry-issued permit that includes stipulated times for burning. Those who light fires without a permit can face a $20,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.

Asked if the ministry has a policy of replanting what people have burned down to clear land, Dipchansingh said, “The ministry always aims at replanting 100 hectares per year. Some of these hectares include degraded hectares.”

But he said the ministry mostly focuses on newly planted areas that have been affected, since plants that are five years old or more can withstand some damage. As for the loss of land, he said between 200 and 300 hectares can be burnt.

“Although it sounds alarming, some of it might just be grassland areas that we attempt to reforest as well. We try our best to keep it under control.

“But at the same time we need the public’s help, and every citizen to do their part to discourage forest fires.”

Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Avinash Singh offered advice to people who constantly light bush or backyard fires.

“My recommendation to everybody: once you want to exist in this planet, plant a tree, or at least plant something, so that you know the generations to come will benefit from the trees that you plant today.

“As Dipchansingh would have said, the slash-and-burn method is traditional agricultural methods, but we are asking people to now explore the new technologies and agriculture that really don’t require slash-and-burn methods.

“You have a lot of agricultural systems now that even don’t require soil. So you have the hydroponics, shade house, greenhouse, LED technology, vertical farms – these are the technologies that we are encouraging farmers to go towards to mitigate against climate change.”

They were speaking to the media after the handover of the National Gas Company’s reforestation programme to the ministry on Tuesday at the San Fernando Hill.