Forest Department Urges Public: Cease Burning During Fire Season
The Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development, through the Forest Department, hereby reminds the public that it is the middle of the fire season, which is observed from February 15th to June 15th annually.
The dry season is a dangerous time to be lighting fires. The risk of wildfires is high during the dry season and wildfires can lead to severe smoke pollution that poses environmental and health concerns, as well as destruction of property and natural habitat.
On April 4, 2020, the Forest Department observed as much as 73 fires in just one day. These are mainly agricultural fires, with some bordering natural forested areas that pose a high risk for wildfires. Some of these agricultural fires are also on the windward side of major communities like Belmopan, where smoke inhalation by residents can exacerbate respiratory ailments. The Forest Department is urgently calling on the public, especially land developers, farmers and local communities to cease burning at this time.
In 2019, Belize experienced a severe drought and as forecasted the drought conditions have continued into 2020, and are expected to be same or worse. Conditions are favourable for a long and hot dry season this year. High temperature with moisture deficiencies and high fuel load offers optimum conditions for more wildfires with high intensity and all associated effects.
The Forest Department also reminds the public that a permit is required for any agricultural burning. Failure to provide evidence of this to the police can lead to arrest and prosecution. The Forest Department will not be issuing any burning permits until further notice.
Ministry of the Environment announces new regulations for burning garbage
Public Advisory from the Ministry of the Environment
With the high and unprecedented number of fires and persistent burning, the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development has enacted a set of new regulations cited as Environmental Protection (Prohibition of the Open-Burning of Refuse and Other Matter) Regulations via Statutory Instrument No. 59 of 2020 which comes into effect today, April 21, 2020.
This new regulation prohibits burning of bush, milpa, agricultural fields, pasture, grass, or any type of vegetation during the state of emergency. It also prohibits the open burning of household and yard waste.
During the state of emergency, anyone engaging in open burning on any private or public land is liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Through satellite tracking, the Ministry can determine, in real time, the location of bush fires anywhere in Belize. The Ministry will be mobilizing personnel to investigate burning throughout the country and prosecute those persons contravening this law. Please be advised that every member of the police department is authorized to enforce this act.
The public is asked to refrain from causing or permitting any type of burning. Report any burning to the nearest police station or by contacting the Department of the Environment or the Forest Department through their Facebook pages.
This Forest Department map showing fire points across the country in one day is indicating that this fire season is shaping up to be quite busy. Many of these are occuring in or around protected areas. PACT and protected area co-managers annually support fire management in our protected forests via fire management plans, equipment, training, surveillance, and community fire brigades.
Climate and unsustainable agricultural practices are among the top drivers of wildfires, which result in biodiversity loss and hazard to human health.
The public is hereby advised on the situation with wildfires across the country and updated on the work being done by the Government of Belize. The Forest Department, the Department of the Environment (DOE) and other agencies including the Fire Department, the Belmopan City Council, the San Ignacio Town Council, and ranger volunteers such as the Southern Wildfire Group, continue to collaborate to actively address the ongoing fires.
Over the Easter weekend, very high daytime temperatures were recorded. Temperatures approached and eventually exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The satellite-based fire detection system Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) recorded close to 80 fires per day, which quickly rose to over 117 fires in the week following Easter. Analysis of the location of these fires showed that they were all related to agricultural landscapes, either sugar cane, milpas, mechanized agricultural fields, or fresh land being cleared and burned for farming.
On April 15th, new legislation began to be drafted to prohibit the open burning of any vegetative matter to reduce the risk of wildfires and further smoke pollution during the state of emergency. During that same week, the public was also advised daily via afternoon and evening newscasts about the need to halt all open burning.
The DOE began its enforcement campaign on April 18th and visited the Santander sugar cane fields and instructed that all fires be extinguished. Santander immediately complied. The field campaign was expanded, and the DOE visited Spanish Lookout and surrounding areas to inform farmers of the upcoming legislation. The Forest Department also visited farmers in the Vaca area along the Arenal Road and along the George Price Highway between Belmopan and San Ignacio to inform village chairpersons and farmers of the upcoming legislation. Both departments reported that most farmers complied and immediately began outing fires.
On April 21st, the new legislation, known as the Environmental Protection (Prohibition of the Open-Burning of Refuse and Other Matter) Regulations, came into effect via Statutory Instrument No. 59 of 2020. The Forest Department and the DOE continued their enforcement campaign and visited several other communities in the Cayo District. Many farmers complied with the new law and began outing fires they had previously started.
By April 23rd, a 77% reduction in agricultural fires was observed on the satellite-based system as shown by the graph below. As farmers extinguished fires and retreated from the areas, the Forest Department began aggressively monitoring the situation. In addition, the monitoring of urban yard fires continued. No persons in the Belmopan and San Ignacio areas were encountered engaging in open burning in their yards during this time. Residents countrywide are encouraged to be mindful and respectful of the situation.
On April 24th, the daytime temperature approached 107 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Forest Department reported that several of the fires that were previously extinguished began flaring up, creating new fires and producing much smoke that settled on the municipalities of Belmopan, San Ignacio, and Benque Viejo del Carmen during the evening. In addition, escaped agricultural fires began spreading into the hills of the Vaca Forest Reserve and created a mounting emergency.
Today, April 25th, the daytime temperatures again approached 107 degrees Fahrenheit, and new fires began flaring up in bushes surrounding Belmopan, Benque Viejo del Carmen, and San Ignacio. These fires are no longer agricultural fires but are now wildfires burning in the forests and bushes surrounding these municipalities. Almost all these wildfires are burning on private estates, except for the Vaca fire which is inside a forest reserve. Given the high sustained daytime temperatures, the now wild uncontrolled nature of these fires, the absence of major rain in the forecast, and the state of emergency that is in effect, the Ministry is advising that the fire situation in the Cayo District is rapidly approaching the level of an emergency.
The Forest Department completed several ground reconnaissance missions in the Cayo District today and began outing fires in the J&W Estate area and in the Riviera Area of Belmopan with support from the Belmopan City Council, the Fire Department, and local businesses. Another Forest Department team began addressing fires in the west around San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen. Firefighting equipment from the Mountain Pine Ridge has been mobilized to address the wildfires in the Vaca Forest Reserve, including heavy equipment consisting of bulldozers and water trucks.
Tomorrow, April 26th, the Forest Department firefighting crew will enter the Vaca Forest Reserve to contain the wildfire there from spreading further into the forest and further into the Chiquibul National Park. This fire in the Vaca Area has the potential to release an enormous amount of smoke into the municipalities of Benque Viejo del Carmen and San Ignacio and has been determined by the fire teams to be a top priority. Based on tomorrow’s report, it will be decided whether to declare the Vaca fire an emergency.
The Ministry will also be coordinating efforts among entities such as the Friends for Conservation and Development, the Southern Wildfire Group, and the municipal councils to monitor and tackle the fire situation as best as possible.
The Ministry will be providing frequent updates through press releases over the coming days to keep the public informed. The public is reminded that in the absence of information reaching each and every person, there is still much happening and much work being carried out by the Forest Department and other national and local stakeholders to monitor and fight the fires affecting our communities. The understanding of the public during this state of emergency is again requested, and all persons are reminded of the new law which prohibits the starting of any fires. This will remain in effect until further notice.
NFS Response to Bush Fires
The National Fire Service (NFS) has been in constant motion trying to address as many bush fires as possible, but it is important to remind the public that they are the first line of defense in the protection of their property from fires. Here are some tips they can do to help.
- Do not light fires in your yard, especially in these extremely dry conditions.
- Cut a 'fire pass' (6ft) around your yard. This will reduce the chances of a fire getting out of hand and reaching your home.
- Have your hose ready. If a fire is getting close, aim for the base of the fire and start spraying the area with water.
Despite challenges, the NFS has:
I. Kept our trucks constantly in the field, going from one fire to the next sometimes leaving firefighters in one location to use the 'fire beaters' for smaller fires while others go to larger fires using the water from the trucks.
2. Been using our trucks carefully off road and pushing the limits of their capabilities.
3. Changed our shift system to ensure that the maximum number of firefighters are on every shift.
4. Been working closely with the Department of the Environment and the Police with our primary role to extinguish these fires. They have the mandate to charge the offenders. We suggest that the Ministry of Agriculture be involved to educate the farmers on this issue.
The National Fire Service remains committed to do all we can to deal with these bush fires and thanks the public for their continuous support.
Less fires today... Vaca doesn't appear to be burning in a major way anymore....
There were massive fires around Poustinia until last Saturday. People from the village of Arenal and from Benque mobilized Saturday and Sunday - went to fight the fires. This morning I did not see any smoke in the area. The hills were fire free.
Dr. Figueroa has a little video explaining the reasons for the wildfires, and detailing how many there are all around the region...and were are 1000's.
Over the past few weeks the quality of our breathable air has progressively deteriorated and has become a cause of concern for all Belizeans.
The entire Mesoamérican region is now ablaze with over 10,000 fire points detected over the past twenty four hours.
As our brave men and women from the Forest Department, the Fire Department, Friends for Conservation and Development, the Southern Wildfire Group, Municipal Governments and local volunteers fight these blazing wildfires, let us all do our part to ensure that as these fires are brought under control, and no new fires are started.
Update on wildfires: What is being Done and Prospects for Improvement
The Forest Department, the Department of the Environment and other agencies including the Fire Department, the Belmopan City Council, and the business community continue to join forces to fight fires around Belmopan and out west in the Vaca Forest Reserve. Major successes were recorded yesterday, Sunday, April 26th, around Belmopan and in the Vaca Forest Reserve.
Belmopan: Yesterday, Sunday, April 26th, the Forest Department along with the Belmopan City Council and Westar Services, successfully controlled two wildfires in northeast Belmopan. The crew remained dedicated to the task well into the night to ensure the fires would not reignite. The smoke from these fires has now subsided, and this morning in northern Belmopan, the conditions are much improved. Throughout the course of today, the situation will be monitored closely to ensure there are no flare-ups.
The Ministry commends the dedicated officers of the Forest Department, Fire Department, the Mayor and staff of the Belmopan City Council, as well as employees of Westar Services, for their effort and service to their community. The crew will now move to address other escaped fires in southern Belmopan. Fortunately, the weather conditions have improved and daytime temperatures are now in the mid-90s compared to 107 degrees Fahrenheit experienced last week.
Vaca Forest Reserve: Yesterday, Sunday, April 26th, the Forest Department wildland fire crew from the Mountain Pineridge Forest Reserve brought a large wildfire in the Vaca Forest Reserve with multiple fronts under control. This fire was burning on multiple fronts – east, south, and west, and was responsible for much of the smoke over Benque Viejo, San Ignacio and Santa Elena. The most aggressive fire on the eastern flank was brought under control by yesterday evening. As a result of this, the conditions in the San Ignacio, Benque, and Santa Elena areas have vastly improved, and there is less smoke in the air.
The Forest Department fire crew will continue to fight the fires on the southern and western flanks to prevent further spread into the Chiquibul National Park. The Ministry commends the dedicated officers of the Forest Department for their effort and service to their community.
Other parts of the country: There are wildfires in other parts of the country including around the St. Herman’s Cave, Springfield, and Bladen Nature Reserve. With the help of partners from the Belize Audubon Society, Y’axche Conservation Trust and Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, these fires are being fought. The Ministry commends these organizations and other business community members for their effort and service to their community.
Recap of the situation to date: For the benefit of the public the following facts recap the situation up to now:
The State of Emergency declared on April 1st , and enhanced on April 11th , limited the movement of non-essential personnel, which included the Forestry Department and the Department of the Environment. Nevertheless, due to the health risks posed by smoke, agricultural burnings were monitored remotely by satellite.
Around April 11th, the agricultural fires intensified, and new legislation was crafted to address the matter. With the approval of the Ministry of National Security, the Forest Department and Department of the Environment were activated to engage in field reconnaissance to put a handle on the matter and to engage in an aggressive awareness campaign.
On April 21st, the new legislation came into effect, and the Department of the Environment and the Forest Department continued their awareness campaign and began enforcement of the new law. A 77% reduction in agricultural fires was recorded shortly thereafter.
Despite the reduction in new agricultural fires, with daytime temperatures soaring to 107 degrees Fahrenheit, by April 24th, the smoldering fires from agricultural lands escaped into wildfires. In the Vaca Forest Reserve, the escaped agricultural fires began burning into the Vaca Forest.
Forest Department fire crews were immediately mobilized and quickly responded to these wildfires which threatened Belmopan, Benque Viejo, San Ignacio and Santa Elena – the communities most affected by smoke.
By the night of April 26th, many of the wildfires were under control. Smoky conditions have now improved and fire crews remain in the field mopping up remaining areas.
Agricultural fire – a fire occurring solely on an agricultural plot, lit by a farmer to clear newly chopped land, to pre-burn before harvesting a crop, or to burn fodder leftover after harvest.
Wildfire (wildland fire, bushfire, forest fire) – a fire occurring on land covered in wild vegetation or forest, lit either by humans, or by an escaped agricultural fire, or by natural occurrence such as lightning.
The regional situation: For the public to have a greater understanding of the challenge posed by changing weather patterns and an increased demand for farmland faced by countries like Belize, the below regional context is highlighted:
Regionally, the situation is worse. In Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, the situation is 10 times worse than in Belize. As a result of this regional situation, smoke from fires all the way down in Nicaragua and Honduras are affecting Belize, causing smoky conditions even in the outer cayes.
The National Fire Service is also alerting the public that in order to help with the fights against these wildfires in Western Belize, their equipment and staff have been put under significant strain.
A press release from the Fire Department says that they have been in constant motion as they try to address as many bush fires as possible. They have kept their trucks constantly in the field, going from one fire to the next. They have had to leave firefighters in one location to use what they call "fire beaters" for smaller fires. That then frees up others to take the trucks to larger fires where the water is needed.
They reiterate their readiness to tackle these wildfires, and they are also thanking the public for continuous support to get the job done.
The Burning in Benque
In the west, we understand that regular individuals in the community played a major role in coming to the aid of Cayo residents living near the burning forests of the Vaca Reserve.
We have since been provided with a cell phone interview with 3 women: 3 civilians who noticed the distress that the residents of Benque Viejo Town faced, due to a shortage in food caused by the COVID-19 threat. They decided that they wanted to help, and coincidentally, their intervention took place when the wildfires were raging in the Vaca reserve. Here's what they had to say about how trying to donate food evolved into a collaboration with a large group of community members who wanted to put out the fires nearest to Benque:
These women say that persistent reports have reached them about a possible source of the agricultural fire that has put the Vaca Forest Reserve at risk. According to them, reports are that it was started by a milpa farmer who may not even be a Belizean national.
FIGHTING FIRES IN TOLEDO...
As we told you earlier, these wildfires have also ignited in other parts of the country. The Ministry says that they've identified fires in the Bladen Nature Reserve.
Today, a group of rangers from the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment, came to the aid of residents of the Hopeville in the Toledo District. The swamp near their community has dried up due to the drought, and now, they have large quantities of fuel for an uncontrolled wildfire.
Our colleagues from PGTV got a chance to speak with TIDE's Terrestrial Manager about their efforts to get the blaze under control on behalf of the residents.
Here's how that conversation went.
Mario Muschamp - Terrestrial Manager, TIDE "Currently, we're working on a fire that's here in the village. It's actually, a ground fire, what we call a ground fire. So, it's actually, burning under the ground. And that's why we're seeing so much smoke, and it's smoking out the community for the past few days. So, a team of staff from TIDE, the police department, BDF, and the Fire Department are actually out here trying to put this fire out."
"We got here, I'd say, around 8 this morning, and started working on this fire."
Reporter "Do you think that you'll be able to put this fire out sometime today or tomorrow?"
Mario Muschamp "It's a very tricky fire, given the fact that it's in a wetland. These areas normally don't burn, but because of the drought conditions, we're seeing that the actual roots, leaves, and all the rotten stuff that are on the ground have dried out, and those are the stuff that is burning. So, the fire is burning underground. We have to be digging it up and spraying it with water to put it out."
Reporter "Do you know what caused the fire?"
Mario Muschamp "[It] has to be somebody. It couldn't start off on its own. As I said, I'm not from this village. I don't know exactly when it started, but it had to be started by somebody within this community."
"This area hasn't seen fire for so many years, and all that stuff that's burning is definitely putting off some toxic smoke that is not very good for health conditions in this community. So, that's first and foremost, getting rid of this fire, and then trying to work with the Forest Department and the Fire Department to see what other fires that we need to deal with within the community and Toledo. But, in general, what we really need is to work with community leaders. So, we're trying to have a meeting with the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, [and] DAVCO Toledo try and sensitize the public on the good and bad faces of fire, and also the new legislation as it relates to burning currently."
Reports are that these fires have been burning for more than 3 weeks now, and the smoke has negatively impacted the residents of Hopeville.
Christina Garcia, Exec. Dir., Ya'axche Conservation Trust "We had like over 100 people or more, so we divided each group into different sections, so today we were tackling about 3 fires that were occurring the same time. We managed to contain some fires, but it's really raging at the moment. For some of the fires it's really difficult to control because they've been burning for quite a while now, but one thing that we have been receiving is overwhelming support from the community in terms of ensuring that these fires are properly out. So far it has been really sad to see a lot of the forest cover being burnt down. Yesterday I had an experience where I went into the Vaca Reserve to out a fire, you could hear all the wildlife screaming yesterday. I went to the Vaca Reserve and saw and heard some of the spider monkeys and howler monkeys screaming from this raging fire. So it's really a big loss in terms of forest cover. I can't tell you the percentage at the moment, but all I can say from my observation is that it's a lot of forest that have been lost, a lot of farmers have lost their crops. Right now we are in an area where we have a lot of the fires that are really running and I think that the Benquenos are fearful that this fire might reach their town. So those are the fires we are tackling at the moment."
You heard Garcia speak about the punishing outcomes for wildlife in the Vaca Forest, well, today the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic posted this picture of a Kinkajou which was burnt in the fire. Their post says it had burnt paws, nose, ear and suffered from smoke inhalation pneumonia, quote "making his prognosis questionable, but not hopeless."
Fire Devours Farm In Toledo
Changing topics now.
Forest fires continue to rage across western and Southerner Belize, devouring vast tracts of lands, farms and valuable crops included.
This was brought home vividly today just outside Mafredi village in the Toledo District. That's where much of the 50 acres of Serendipity Farms was consumed by firing, laying waste to a million dollars in crops.
PLUS TV spoke to farm owner Lawrence Chavarria:
Lawrence Chavarria, Owner, Serendipity Farm "Approximately 50 acres located right outside of Mafredi, one of the first parcel of land in the San Antonio Village. It consists of 15,000 cacao trees and which are already starting to produce. Last week we have harvested over 3,000 pounds of wet cacao. We have another 4,000 pounds on the farm that was left to harvest and it has been very devastating with this farm fire coming in from behind the Colombia Village from supposedly one of the slash and burn farmers that does the milpa system. At the moment there are still some fires on the farm and we are trying to control that."
Reporter "What is the cost of a seedling?"
Lawrence Chavarria "One seedling I would say starts off at $5."
Reporter "And you have these trees in the ground for how many years now."
Lawrence Chavarria "From 2016 we started off."
Reporter "So 4 years you've been taking care of your farm, what is the estimated value of your farm right now?"
Lawrence Chavarria "We are looking at least one million dollars based on the damages here at the moment."
Reporter "Can you tell us how many trees you have on this farm?"
Lawrence Chavarria "Approximately 14,000-15,000 trees. I just want to advise the public not to be burning any fire at the moment because there are a lot of farmers with a lot of investment and it's bad for the environment as well to be lighting fires and you could see the devastation."
"For me this farm is such a loss and have affected me and my family and my future and I could consider this worse than the Covid-19, whereby we had a lot of investment and this is detrimental to my future investment as well. At this moment I would like to plea to the whole community if they could please, anybody that is out there that could assist in agriculture and cacao farming; we are open to accept any help. I would also like to advise the general public by safe guarding the environment and forest fires and if you would see anybody lighting fire, please stop them and call the proper authorities, so we could stop this disaster that is happening with forest fires."
Those wanting to help can reach Chavarria at 614-5374.
An Air Tanker for Fires
It's been smoke-filled and stifling days in the west but help is on the way and tomorrow an air tanker plane will fly over the periphery of Belmopan to fight slow-burning fires in the northeast and southeast of the city.
The air tanker, that will be in operation from 5 am onward, will be flown out of Spanish Lookout by experienced pilots, and will be dumping several hundred gallons of water over the fires in a given pass.
Residents are advised to not be alarmed if they see or hear the air tanker as it is here to help.
This air tanker service is made possible through the generous donation of the Protected Areas Conservation Trust, which is an organization resident in Belmopan.
The public in the Belmopan area is advised of the use of an air tanker airplane tomorrow April 29th, 2020, over the periphery of Belmopan to assist in outing persistent fires in the north east and south east of the city. These fires are slow burning but produce an immense amount of smoke.
The air tanker is flown out of Spanish Lookout by experienced pilots and will be dumping several hundred gallons of water over the fires in a given pass. The air tanker will be in operation from 5 am throughout the day. Residents are advised to not be alarmed if they see or hear the air tanker as it is here to help. The fires are burning in the wild vegetation surrounding Belmopan and so there is minimal disturbance expected for residential areas.
This air tanker service is made possible through the generous donation of the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), which is an organization resident in Belmopan. The Ministry expresses is sincere thanks to the Board of Directors of PACT.
The Ministry also takes this opportunity to thank the Mayor and the dedicated staff of the Belmopan City Council. The Ministry is proud of the staff of the Forest Department who have been fighting the fires in Belmopan and in the Vaca Forest Reserve over the past days. As well, much appreciation and thanks is due to the members of the business community and volunteers and community members who have assisted in various ways throughout this ordeal.
The airplane airtanker method is known to work and it is expected that this will bring much relief to environmental conditions in Belmopan.
"Air Tanker" Dumped 23K Gallons Over Cayo Hotspots in 57 Flights
The so - called air tanker water bombing an area south of Benque Viejo that had been having persistent fires. The crop duster loaded with 500 gallons went there at 3:30 after it made 35 flights over Belmopan.
It made 11 flyovers south of Benque, and another 11 flyovers south of San Ignacio. In total, the airman Limited crop duster let off nine thousand gallons of water on three fire areas in San Ignacio and Benque. It let go another 14,000 gallons over Belmopan which had 6 major fires.
Two planes were at work this afternoon. They started with one plane behind Cristo Rey and one around Benque Viejo. At last report this evening, they were over southern Benque Viejo Town and south of San Ignacio Town and hit 3 fires.
Showers of Blessing Ease Forest Fires
Our headline tonight is about the forest fires raging in Western Belize, across the Cayo District.
The Goode news is that around 3:30 this afternoon and hour long downpour fell on the VACA Forest Reserve which has been the epicentre of the largest and most difficult to contain fires.
Rain fell near the Vaca dam, and was seen as a blessing in addition to other very heavy and manpower intensive efforts on the ground.
The Latest From The Wildfire West
As you heard, those planes dropped their load over VACA and around Benque Viejo this evening. What's the outcome of all that water, along with the rain? We spoke to surveyor Rob Trujillo who has been instrumental in coordinating the community effort on the ground:
Rob Trujillo, Wildfire Responder/Organizer "The ones that were close to Benque on the Arenal Road they have been contained. We had last night one that was coming from behind Succotz towards Benque and that also has been contained and from what we understand it's raining behind Succotz right now. So, the ones that have not been contained in full, but are being monitored are the ones that are by the water hole camp 6 area, which is towards Vaca falls."
Jules Vasquez "With the rains and with the ongoing effort by so many parties, the town's people, environmental organizations, the forestry department as well - are you thinking that right now the worst is behind us with this batch of fires?"
Rob Trujillo, Wildfire Responder/Organizer "Well, we are hoping that is so and I believe that yes if we get more rain the worse should be over."
Jules Vasquez "But how much of this was caused by natural wildfires in terms of natural sources of ignition or accidental sources of ignition and how much of it was caused by milpa clearing and that sort of thing which we know also happens at this time of year?"
Rob Trujillo, Wildfire Responder/Organizer "Well we believe that most of it, if not all of it that has been affecting us here was caused by the milpa system and from collecting information and talking to the farmers around camp 6, they are claiming that it was a gentleman who is not a Belizean who basically cut down not even 2 acres of milpa, the guy waited until night and light it and then left the country."
Jules Vasquez "Would you speak also Rob, about the response of the community in Benque Viejo. It's been really extraordinary. Would you speak about that?"
Rob Trujillo, Wildfire Responder/Organizer "Yes, it's been really, really good. The guys are out there, we have some ladies that have join also and then we have the community offering food for the volunteers and everybody has come together. It is just amazing what can be done when everybody comes together."
Wildfires Wreck Wildlife
Yesterday we showed you a picture of a Kinkajou rescued by the Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic. He'd suffered burns to his paws, nose, and ear, at the time we told you that smoke inhalation and pneumonia had made his case a questionable one. Tonight there's an update on his condition.
Cherisse Halsall spoke to Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durant, the founder and director of the Wildlife Referral clinic. She says that while for us burnt forests may mean less green space for weekend jaunts, for many animals, it means the loss of their homes and possibly their families.
Dr. Isabelle Pauquet-Durant, Founder and Director, BWRC "The Clinic's experience has been a challenge so to speak because A we do see victims of wildfires pretty much every year so some animals are displaced or orphaned with burn wounds on them and in this case, we also had a wildfire behind the clinic that came closer and closer and closer for 5 days. So a challenge from both ends."
This video taken by Belize Wildlife Referral Clinic shows a displaced animal with obvious signs of burns on its feet. It's frantically running because the soil beneath its feet is on fire.
Although staff made heroic efforts to capture the animal. It evaded them.
The video's caption quote: a stark reminder that while some animals die quick and fiery deaths, many suffer for a long time eventually dying of inhalation pneumonia, varying degrees of burns, and once their food supplies have burnt up, starvation."
Dr. Isabelle Pauquet-Durant "The worst thing to me is thinking of all the burnt homes, no, while to us it's a forest to maybe enjoy or make use of to thousands and thousands of animals it's home and it's burnt to the ground."
Cherisse Halsall: "Who's been most affected is it animals that fly, the ones on the ground, or the ones in the trees?"
Dr. Isabelle Pauquet-Durant "I think all of them are through the air because we all breathe the air. It doesn't matter where we live, from us humans here suffering to every animal that flies. Some birds may have a chance to get away because they fly but they often leave behind their nests and their offspring. Animals that can walk in many cases that I've seen now the fires move very slow so some maybe be able to walk away but again their offspring doesn't stand a chance and many of them get burnt in the process because everywhere around them is burning and then the air is just a killer to the lungs."
The Kinkajou today tentatively dubbed Fuego by his rescuer and clinic staff was certainly luckier.
Dr. Isabelle Pauquet-Durant "For now, we just have one burn victim and that's that kinkajou that arrived yesterday."
Cherisse Halsall: "So how is Kinkajou doing? What's his prognosis?"
Dr. Isabelle Pauquet-Durant "The Prognosis has improved a little bit overnight. He is definitely in good spirits as we like to say. He's very feisty and very wild and currently is fighting to take his medications. So that's a good sign, it makes it more difficult for us, but that is good. What has me most concerned is the state of his lungs because he inhaled so much smoke. So percentage-wise of his body I estimate that it's under 5% of his body that's burnt so he stands a chance to survive that but the lungs will take a few more days to be sure whether he'll get over that."
"These fires, unfortunately, are man-made and their man-made despite a ban, and yes a lot of fires were burning already before that and they were out of control before the ban was put in place."
"We have until the last few days not had any lightning storms in the area so while some people are out there saying oh yeah there are natural forest fires no, these fires are not natural and the rainforest is actually not supposed to burn while certain types of forest have evolved to burn rainforests have not evolved to burn."
"The ray of hope is people stepping up groups forming, volunteers all over the country stepping up trying to do what they can to stop this so that's for sure a ray of hope and in dire situations, it seems to bring people together more but I hope that long term lessons will be taken from this."
"It hasn't been easy because of the state of emergency and movement restrictions. So I'm sure there are thousands of animals that are burnt or in need of help many people may also not be aware that we're actually there and ready to help if more can find their way to us."
The wildlife clinic provides free veterinary care for in peril wildlife. If you see a hurt animal give them a call at 615-5159. They will, under the current restrictions, either offer advice or attempt to get animals to rescue with the ultimate goal of releasing them into the wild.
Wildfires Wreak Havoc, Prompt Community Response
And that rain is why some a breathing a little easier - in more ways than one - out west tonight. Here's the full story on the fire, the smoke and the valiant effort to fight the flames with a crop duster:
Jules Vasquez reporting
Responding to the wildfires in the Cayo District is a mission of indeterminate destination. This is the Hydro Road coming out of Benque Viejo.
This drone shot shows smoke fanning out in all directions across the Vaca forest Reserve where the fires have been most aggressive and persistent - three large fires and a smaller one behind Benque Viejo.
The thick wildfire's blankets of smoke are trapped in the valleys. And when it goes up, it creates a hazy screen of smoke above western Cayo.
And while from above it can look even picturesque in the day. And like a morbid sci-fi fantasy at night. On the ground it's a hot and hellish scramble. Fire slices through the forest like a fast moving snake. Thick gusts of smoke can be suffocating for the improvised fire fighters.
Those winds feed the fire deep in the Vaca. North of there in Benque Viejo where smaller fires are on the border of the town, more than a hundred volunteers, regular townspeople have thrown COVID cautions to the wind, they have a bigger crisis to face.
Those townspeople took instruction and strategy from seasoned and equipped Yax'che forest fire fighters. And this morning over Belmopan, deliverance from above. A crop duster outfitted as what is being called an "air tanker" water bombing Belmopan 500 gallons at a time.
35 flights over the capital suppressed the smoke and put out slow burning fires, leaving the capital looking like this by the afternoon.
The next mission for two Airmax planes was Vaca this afternoon and Benque Viejo and San Ignacio, starting around 3:30.
The idea is to put out those persistent fires that are smothering those western towns.
Additionally, a team of wildland firefighters will be patrolling the areas in Belmopan in coordination with the City Council. The Minister of environment is asking the public to call and report anyone seen lighting fires in the area of Maya Mopan, Salvapan, San Martin, Las Flores and Cotton Tree, where much of the smoke that was affecting Belmopan originated.
PACT, the Protected Areas Conservation Trust is the agency that enlisted Airmax Limited to drop the water. The Ministry of environment said there were two of what it calls "air tanker" planes - what we know as crop dusters.
Wildfires Run Amok in Cayo District In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is facing another crisis; it has to do with bush and forest fires that have been spreading all over the country. In [...]
Aerial Fire Management Update (9:00a.m.) - The two planes were deployed as of 5a.m. today with one working over Georgeville Village and the upper Barton Creek Area (the smoke from those fires goes west to San Ignacio) and the second one is working over the El Pilar area.
Heavy downpour out west and arson suspected in new Belmopan fire
The air tankers funded by the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT) continued flights over the western communities in the Cayo District today, April 30th, from 5:00 a.m. up to around 5:00 p.m.
Several fires were suppressed in the areas of El Pilar and Chapel Hill in Benque Viejo del Carmen, and in the villages of Georgeville, Barton Creek and Unitedville. A house was saved from flames south of Unitedville and a large fire was extinguished in the Riverwalk area, among many other fires suppressed today. Around 5:00 p.m., a large thunderstorm rolled over the western part of the Cayo District, drenching all the fires in the Vaca Forest Reserve, Arenal, and Blackman Eddy. With the rains this evening, the far west is considered to be significantly out of harm’s way.
In Belmopan, the air had cleared after the air tankers drenched the fires on the eastern periphery on April 29th. However, at around 2:00 p.m. today, two fires were lit by what is suspected arson in the vicinity of the Palm View Psychiatric Clinic in Maya Mopan and on the forested property of the University of Belize in southeast Belmopan. Residents reported that a red late model Toyota Rav4 was seen entering and exiting the university property shortly before several small fires began burning along the road that dissects the property. The Department of the Environment (DOE) along with the police combed the area of the fires on the property but did not observe anyone in the area by that time. Due to those two fires, the conditions in Belmopan have degraded and the air is now thick with smoke.
The residents of Maya Mopan and the UB forested property are implored to keep a watchful eye. Take photographs of any suspicious activity in the area, especially during the afternoon hours when the fires are typically lit, and immediately report to the DOE or the Forest Department. The DOE and the police will be frequenting the area.
The Ministry once again thanks the board of directors of PACT for their generous show of corporate social responsibility.