There was a major industrial fire on the Placencia yesterday - and the fire department is warning villagers form surrounding communities to be alert. The fire is at Belize Aquaculture limited, the shrimp farm known as BAL which is right at the first major turn at mile 4 on the Placencia Road. The fire department ahs sent out a public advisory, noting that the BAL storage building is on fire, and the public hazard is it Involves unknown quantity of Ammonia & chlorine. There are concerns that fumes from this toxic chemicals could reach the Nearest villages Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, which are 4 miles down wind of the fire. Villagers are being warned, if smoke does reach - they will have to evacuate to a safe area. The Fire Department also warns, If anyone suffers symptoms from smoke inhalation, move them outside to get fresh air and Seek medical attention immediately.
The greatest concern at this hour according to a Fire Department public advisory is the fact that it is the storage building on fire - and that contains an unknown quantity of Ammonia & chlorine - which are toxic if inhaled.
So, There are concerns that fumes from this toxic chemicals could reach the Nearest villages Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, which are 4 miles downwind of the fire. Villagers are being warned, if smoke does reach them - they will have to evacuate to a safe area. The Fire Department also warns, If anyone suffers symptoms from smoke inhalation, move them outside to get fresh air and seek medical attention immediately. We'll have more on this developing story tomorrow.
Fire officials are still processing the scene at the Belize Aquaculture Ltd. shrimp farm which is about 4 miles in on the Placencia Road. As we told you, a fire broke out late yesterday afternoon inside their processing plant. Fortunately, it did not spread to the surrounding buildings and, more importantly, no one was hurt nor affected by the fumes. Courtney Weatherburne went down south to capture the aftermath. Here is that story.
Courtney Weatherburne reporting
The Belize Aquaculture Ltd. shrimp farm workers weren't taking any chances today; they wore masks and were on high alert patrolling and securing the premises.
The industrial blaze began around 3:00 yesterday afternoon inside the processing plant. They had their equipment as well as ammonia gas tanks inside but according to an employee, they only had a limited supply of gas and fortunately the tanks didn't explode. It is unclear where or how the fire started, but it burned through the night.
BAL did not grant on camera interview but they released a statement saying "Smoke was first observed coming from the south middle, but since the building had a ridge vent it is unclear from where the smoke was originating." The fire department sent out a release yesterday evening warning Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa Villagers that if the poisonous vapour got to them they will have to evacuate. But fortunately it didn't affect the residents at all.
Rhon White, Santa Cruz Resident "Approximately after 5 I was driving by and I saw them - smoke coming across from where the far was and I was coming down and I saw it. Was wondering if somebody had lighted a bush fire. The closer I got I saw that it was contained by the shrimp farm. I basically just saw smoke."
Reporter "You didnt smell anything?"
Rhon White, Santa Cruz Resident "Nothing was smelling and I had passed approximately about 200 yards."
Reporter "Its safe to say that nobody here in Santa Cruz was affected?"
Rhon White, Santa Cruz Resident "I dont think nobody here basically would be affected, because of the distance. I've passed close and it never affected me and the cars that were passing never got affected."
Felicita Madrid, Santa Cruz Resident "Around 4pm I see the black smoke."
Reporter "You didnt smell anything strange or you didnt feel sick or anything after smelling it or anything?"
Felicita Madrid "I didnt smell anything."
Kenea Castro, Santa Cruz Resident "I hear something and them say it was burning a lot of things and when I saw something in the sky, but I didnt smell anything."
Reporter "You saw the smoke?"
Kenea Castro, Santa Cruz Resident "I saw the smoke and today they were talking about that in school. The teachers were talking about that. Some doctors came to the school and check is something had happened to us. But nothing else."
Courtney Weatherburne "Santa Cruz residents can literally breathe a sigh of relief now that that the fumes have vaporize before they could pose any threat and what could have been a major disaster was averted."
Fire officials say they will work up until 7:00 tonight and continue scanning the area tomorrow morning. At this time, they don't have anything concrete to say what caused the fire, only preliminary observations. In a release BAL sent out it states "The positive is that the hatchery and infrastructure including farms themselves are not affected so the production schedule planned to start in February will still go ahead as planned and shrimp can be grown." We will keep following this story.
Notably, the Fire Department told the media yesterday evening that quote, the "fire Involves unknown quantity of Ammonia & chlorine", end quote, but the employee that there was no chlorine in the processing plant.
Fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire that destroyed the processing plant at the Belize Aquaculture Limited on the Placencia Road. The fire broke out on Monday evening and the blaze grew to a threatening size as fire-fighters were told to stand down and allow the building to burn through the night. Smoke was first seen emanating from the southern middle portion, but since the building had a ridge vent it is unclear from where the fire was originating. Today, ACP Joseph Myvett told the media that the matter is still under investigation.
ACP Joseph Myvett, Head, National Crimes Investigation Branch
“On Monday last, sometime around five-ten p.m., Independence police were called to the scene of a fire at the Belize Aquaculture Limited on the Placencia Road where upon arrival, the building was seen engulfed in flames. Initial police investigation revealed that sometime after four p.m., an employee of the company saw smoke coming from the main building which ended up completely destroyed by fire. At this time, the cause of the fire is still yet unknown as fire personnel is still on the scene trying to determine the cause and police investigation into the matter is ongoing. At this time also, the damages have not yet been ascertained and neither does the police know whether or not the contents of the building were insured.”
A release from Bowen and Bowen says that the incident will not affect the scheduled production of shrimps. As a result of the fire, a thick black smoke emerged containing traces of ammonia. Some of the residents in the nearby villages Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa reported feeling unwell throughout the night.
It is not expected that the unfortunate industrial blaze that ravaged a section of Belize Aquaculture Limited (BAL) processing plant in the Stann Creek District to ashes on Monday evening will have any direct impact on the production output of the shrimp industry in Belize.
Late Wednesday evening, CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture Jose Alpuche confirmed to the Reporter that while the facility is a major production unit of the shrimp industry, it has not been operational for some time. Alpuche declared that in the interim the Ministry will be looking at increasing production at a gradual rate by having other processing plants increase their processing capacity.
“They are quite a major producer, but what has been impacted right now is just the processing plant. It is not the production unit. The hatchery and so remains intact so they will continue to produce. What will now happen is that one of the other processing plants will have to process for them. We have many others in the industry, facilities that can process the industry’s output right now since production is steadily growing,” Alpuche explained.
Following the fire which started around 2:00 p.m. on January 28th, sister company Bowen and Bowen Limited issued a press release confirming Alpuche’s statement – “The fire was contained in the Processing Plant, and the surrounding buildings were not damaged. The positive is that the hatchery and infrastructure including the ponds themselves are not affected so the scheduled production will still go ahead as planned.”
Bowen’s release on the fire additionally noted that no one was inside the plant when the fire blazed and so no injuries were reported. The company is, therefore, working on trying to establish where the fire originated, since the building had a rigid vent and smoke was first observed coming from the southern middle portion.
When fire personnel responded to the scene, the blaze was already out of control and so their main focus was to contain the fire in one of the buildings. The Fire Department also issued an advisory for residents of Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa villages to be ready for evacuation due to the possible inhalation of toxic gases contained in the thick blankets of smoke, particularly ammonia and chlorine.
Residents, however, were not affected and Area Representative for Stann Creek West Rodwell Ferguson told the Reporter – “When I went on the grounds some of the villagers didn’t even realize that there was a fire. They saw some smoke but it did not spread inward to the village, so basically everything was normal.”
The alarming situation which could have been potentially deadly due to the emission of toxic smoke in the air also prompted the National Emergency Management Organization to kick its Southern Regional arm into motion. Fortunately, because the toxic smoke was dissipating at a high altitude and moving over and away from the communities, no mass evacuation was required and residents were just given information on how they could safeguard themselves at home while the smoke dissipated.
In March 2018 BAL was featured in the news after terminating 100 of its employees citing the high cost of operations and the outbreak of a disease that was damaging the entire shrimp industry.