Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 3rd 2014 Contents A12
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 3, 2014
• Continued from Page A10
Forest fires happen for different rea-
sons, Jaramogi says. Many are deliber-
"Some people light a fire to burn
garbage and dry stuff and they walk
away or it gets out of hand. Some do
slash and burn farming or just gardening.
Some are mischievous or malicious fires."
Why would somebody deliberately
start a fire in a forest?
"It s a trend for some," she says. "They
like the look of a fire burning in the
"Nobody is ever charged. They re
treating it like a joke. We have the Fire
Act, so implement it. Make an example
of these people. Even if it s community
She is clearly frustrated.
"I can t arrest people," she continues,
"I have no authority. I m a woman. I m
not going to confront a bully. I ve done
conflict resolution training, but I won t
put myself at risk. If you talk too soft
they ignore you; if you talk too hard
they become aggressive.
"The Forestry Division has wardens
who are able to charge people. I request-
ed them to come and investigate these
fires like they were a case of arson. I
wanted backup, it was a serious matter,
I wanted to see trucks, house to house
enquiries, reports taken. Nobody called
"Where is the minister making a state
of the environment report? Where are
the Minister of National Security and
the Minister of the Environment and
Water Resources? They ve said noth-
As the T&T Guardian leaves the proj-
ect compound, Jaramogi tells us to do
do a rain dance and pray for the rainy
season to arrive.
Asked how a group of
underresourced volunteers can
tackle the blazes, seen from as
far away as Ariapita Avenue in
Woodbrook, Jaramogi tries to
paint the picture.
"Picture me 3,000 feet above
sea level, that's how high the
mountain top is, with my
backpack, drinking water, first
aid, a phone, a beater to fight
the fire, a cutlass to chop
branches and cut off the fuel
and a staff or stick."
Collett shows me the
backpack of water with a hose
attachment they go up and
down with, spraying the fire. It's
heavy, even without any water
inside it. They get as close to
the edge of the blaze as possible
and use the beaters to snuff out
as much as they can to stop it
spreading. They use tools to cut
vegetation away and clear leaf
litter, leaving bare earth to
create natural fire breaks.
Sometimes they even use dirt
to stamp out fires.
Jaramogi described the
mayhem of April's fires when
her team were leaping fences
four feet high, negotiating guard
dogs, asking residents to turn
off their electric gates so they
could get to the flames.
It's difficult at times to get a
grip on the hillsides to balance
yourself. Vines hang down,
tempting you to reach out and
grab them, but some of them
will leave thorns in your hand
that won't come out for days
until you start to see pus
emerge from the wounds.
Amongst the carnage left
behind, they find dead snakes,
iguanas and agouti with burnt
feet. Birds migrate, jettisoning
their usual migratory patterns.
Animals still alive tend to be
angry. Mapapiere snakes, for
example, are poisonous and
dangerous when aggressive.
Akilah Jaramogi demonstrates how a beater is used to put out fires in the bush surrounding the Fondes
Amandes Community Reforestation Project. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ
One of the treacherous tracks in the scorched Fondes Amandes Ridge St Ann's.
PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS
Guardian columnist and
environmentalist Marc de Verteuil
described the fires as "a disaster for
"The hunting moratorium has given
wildlife a chance to recover, but the
habitat destruction we are seeing
must be causing loss to wildlife. It may
be worth considering extending the
hunting moratorium to make up for
the losses," he said.
"More reforestation projects are
necessary so we can respond better to
these forest fires. The best response
would be through prevention.
"This is important because the
prediction is climate change will result
in longer drought periods combined
with heavier precipitation when it does
rain. It is much cheaper to implement
reforestation than to incur year after
year of property damage costs.
"Let's also see some arrests made
"All these fires were started by
irresponsible people whose actions
have huge impacts on the ecosystem
and on property. By not prosecuting
these irresponsible people, we are
condoning their actions and
encouraging more of the same.
"Often we see a fire start small in
the morning and by evening time its a
huge, out-of-control inferno. Quick
response is key to minimising damage.
It would be useful to equip National
Security helicopters to drop fire-
fighting crews at hard-to-reach areas
of the bush which can otherwise only
be accessed after exhausting treks
through the jungles and up steep
hillsides which can often take hours.
"These fires are preventable and
NGOs need 100 per cent backing in
terms of capability and equipment."
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