St Ann’s residents concerned over smoke, ash from bush fire

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Residents near the hilltop near the Fondes Amandes Reforestation Project have been on high alert after
several close calls with forest fires since the commencement of the dry season, Newsday visited the
area in St Anns on Thursday. – Photo by Roger Jacob

A visit to St Ann’s on Thursday showed no signs of a Monday-evening bush fire, but residents were still grappling with its aftermath.

Newsday spoke to a staff member of the Fondes Amandes Community Reforestation Project (FACRP), who said while the Monday blaze was contained, it remained a cause for concern.

“No matter the size of the fire, it is serious,” said a staff member who did not give her name.

The woman was also preparing for the group’s annual Bush and Forest Fire Prevention workshop, scheduled to begin on Friday.

She said the fire came close to a few homes in the area, one of which belonged to a coworker.

Cowie Joseph, a resident of the area, said homes were not immediately threatened by the flames, but residents were primarily concerned about the smoke and ash.

Joseph, who worked with the National Reforestation Group, said the group, along with residents and members of FACRP and other NGOs, collaborated to extinguish the blaze on Monday.

“The fire started around 5pm and we were out until around 2am putting it out.”

He said the fire service visited the area, but a dispute with a homeowner hindered their efforts.

He said the community remained vigilant and on Wednesday, the Forestry Division, along with members of the community, returned to the site to put out another fire.

“It wasn’t a major fire on Wednesday; we handled it before it became significant.”

Sherma Thomas, another resident, said while the fire did not directly threaten her home, it was at the backs of three houses.

She said the community is worried about the fire’s impact, particularly the smoke and ash, which pose health risks, especially to the elderly and children with asthma.

On Wednesday, FACRP co-founder and executive director Akilah Jaramogi told Newsday via WhatsApp that she and her team were returning to the fire site after managing to contain it on Tuesday.

At the time, she said the fire was reigniting.

Jaramogi was unavailable for further comments because she was taking part in the regional connection and local action for sustained community resilience event at the Hyatt.

What FACRP does

Founded in 1982 by Jaramogi and her late husband Tacuma, FACRP’s unofficial roots date back to the 1970s.

FACRP focuses primarily largely on environmental issues, but also on social issues that are interconnected with environmental degradation while working with the community through environmentally enhanced activity.

Kemba Jaramogi, the group’s technical director, said in a phone interview with Newsday that the organisation oversees 185 acres of land and throughout the year, it maintains pre-existing fire traces.

She said traces are cut in high-risk areas where fires are known to start.

Jaramogi said the traces are cut to the contour of the land, to minimise damage.

From the end of December to June 30, which marks the beginning of the dry season, the group pays close attention to its traces. Jaramogi said there have been two serious bush fires so far for the year.

She stressed that the fire service needs to invest in more resources to help fight bush fires, and are currently unable to help if fires are not near roads, as their hoses are not long enough.

Jaramogi called for public education and involvement in fire prevention efforts.