The Forestry Department has been building the capacities of communities in and around forested areas to enable residents to effectively manage forest fires. The Agency has to date conducted six forest fire management training sessions in Bull Head, Clarendon; Spring Dunrobin, St. Thomas; Bellevue, Portland; and Content Gap, Bloxburgh and Flamstead in St. Andrew.
Director of the Agency’s Eastern Zone, Mr. Damart Williams, says that fires continue to be one of the leading causes of forest degradation and destruction in Jamaica, noting that between 2015 and 2016, some 366 hectares of forests were lost to fires.
Mr. Williams also noted that neither the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) nor the Forestry Department have the equipment or the capacity to respond properly to forest fires and as a result, rely on the assistance of the local communities in their efforts.
“For this reason, we place great emphasis on fire prevention. We encourage community members to employ other methods of clearing their lands and managing their solid waste instead of burning but we have come to understand that burning is like a social phenomenon in Jamaica, so we also focus on fire suppression and we partner with the JFB for this segment and at the end they do a practical exercise demonstrating the fire suppression techniques they learned,” he said.
Mr. Williams noted that with the losses that farmers in these areas have incurred over the years as a result of fires, he hopes that the training sessions will lead to a behaviour change and in cases where there are fires, the communities will be more responsive in managing and suppressing them.
“Most of the farmers whose farms were impacted by fires in 2015 have still not fully recovered and we hope that it will serve as a warning and a reminder of just how devastating the impacts of a fire can be. So, we hope when they go to light a fire, they will think twice about it and if they absolutely must light one, that they would have taken all the precautionary measures to lessen the possibility of it getting out of control,” Mr. Williams said.
In the meantime, farmer and resident of the Bellevue community, Mr. Robert Downer, said that the community is grateful for the training as they are now better equipped to keep their farms as well as the forest safe.
Mr. Ashton Duffus of Flamstead, St. Andrew, said that he learned a lot from the training and will be adopting the use of fire prevention techniques on his farm.
“I will definitely be using fire lines to ensure that fires do not spread from other areas onto my farm or from my farm to other farms and even more so to the forest because I learned that it only takes a spark which can travel up to a mile to catch fire somewhere else. I am happy that almost all the community members turned up to the session because it will take all of us working together to keep our community and forests safe,” he said.
Meanwhile, the areas of focus for the forest fire management training sessions include proper use of hand tools for forest fire management, basics of forest fire prevention, creation of firelines, forest fire suppression strategies and the effects of weather and topography on forest fire behaviour.
The Forestry Department will be conducting additional forest fire management training in the Buff Bay Valley area of Portland and Westphalia, St. Andrew by the end of the 2017/18 financial year.