Forest fires smoke out Cayo residents
Belize is nearing the end of its dry season…in fact, we should already have been experiencing some pretty significant rainfall, but it is nowhere in existence and for some residents it can’t come soon enough. That’s because while there is no hint of rain, there is plenty of smoke. In fact, the entire west of the country is shrouded in smoke. Authorities say that the smoke is caused by bush fires so there is little they can do about it, but that is absolutely no consolation for those who are forced to sleep on bedding and dress in clothes which reek of smoke. It is unpleasant, to say the least, and it also has unpleasant side-effects on those forced to breathe in that smoke all day every day. Today Mike Rudon headed west and has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
Commuters and residents on the western highway have become accustomed to this sight….raging wildfires on the side of the road with thick smoke blanketing the highway. It happens every year during the dry season, but this year it seems to be worse than ever before, keeping the twelve full-time personnel and three trucks from the San Ignacio/Santa Elena Fire Department busy.
Voice of: Fidel Castanedas, Substation Officer
“Beginning March, April, May, we have been responding almost every day to the cause of bushfires all over the towns, the villages and the highway. Presently we are in the month of May which we consider the peak of bushfires and there are a whole lot of complaints coming from different areas in regards to the smoke affecting them. So we at the fire department try our best to respond to all calls—some of them are beyond our reach—however, wherever it is a threat, we respond.”
The Department has done its best, even with challenges like lack of water, since many of the fires which blaze up are far from any water source.
Voice of: Fidel Castanedas
“A setback that we have right now is the water; our trucks only have a certain capacity and sometimes the distance where we are located at, water is a problem and we encounter that as a serious setback for us. Sometimes we extinguish it and [sometimes] when our water finishes and on our return, the fire is blazing all over again. So it is a serious problem that we face.
The nearby towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio are getting a heaping dosage of the smoke caused by these fires. San Ignacio is renowned for its amazing scenery…for views like this one from the hilltop of the CahalPech Resort. But all that is now obscured by a haze of smoke, and reports are that it was much lighter today than on previous days. It’s a problem for the resort, as it has been bad for business.
Cynthia Robateau, General Manager, Cahal Pech Resort
“People are complaining simple thing. You have the air conditioning in the room and even though the doors are clothes—the laundry especially—even though we do our clothes in the washing machines, they still complain that when they get back their laundry, the laundry smell of smoke.”
“So definitely you guys have lost some business because of the smoke?”
“Yes, we have a great deal. Also here at the hotel, we’re known for our swimming pool and for the past three weeks, ashes in the pool. It doesn’t matter what we do; we do high maintenance on our pool and we’ve been having a lot of problems with that.”
And while complaints are bad enough, the smoke has also caused cancellations.
“We had guests complaining. One guest in particular who had asthma, she had to leave; we had to refund her entire package. We had other guests who were coming on the road from Belize City to San Ignacio and they decided to change their minds and go back to the city. It’s crazy, we’ve been calling over the radio, people keep coming and we don’t know where to go because no one seems to care what is happening in this area.”
Chief of Staff at the San Ignacio Hospital Misael Ramirez says that the smoke is a definite health concern. They had their own brush with fire on Sunday, and Fire Department personnel had to be called in.
Voice of: Fidel Castanedas
“Last night, we were out there about five-thirty in the evening till way about eight o’clock. We had a large area of bush that was burning and it was a real hazardous area for those people around there especially the hospital and passersby traffic on a whole. So we were out there dealing with it last night.”
Misael Ramirez, Chief of Staff, San Ignacio Hospital
“It will be easy to get any respiratory infection because the normal mechanism to defend your longs will be affected due to the smoke and that will create easy field in the lungs to develop acute respiratory infections—could be viral, could be bacteria.”
“The smoke generally is affecting all, but especially we have those that suffer asthma or small children, they are the ones vulnerable to the smoke at this moment.”
“Is there anything that anybody can do about this?”
“Yeah, we strongly advice people all over to exercise care within their homes; to keep their areas clean a minimum of six feet perimeter from their house so that they can be on a safe zone within their homes so that we can prevent accidents resulting from fires.”
And with that said, there’s not much that anyone can do but wait for nature to take its course, hopefully sooner rather than later. Mike Rudon for News Five.