Firefighters relieved as rains ‘out’ bushfire rage nationally Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Local firefighters are generally “relieved” by the current rainfall occurring across sections of the island, which has largely eased the number of bushfires that, for the first few days of March, had risen to close to 1,000.

Public Relations Officer at the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Emeleo Ebanks, told Loop News on Friday that firefighters are collectively “relieved” that the rains have come, noting that the firefighters had to be dealing with “record-breaking numbers” of bushfires since this year.

The severity of the situation that firefighters faced was underscored at a press conference on Thursday, March 9, where it was revealed that there had been 1,968 such fires across the island.

Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), Stewart Beckford, said at the time that the number was alarming, given that for the entire 2022, there were 3,518 bushfires.

Bushfires have been noticeably, for example, in the hills of St Andrew in recent weeks, the latest of which occurred in Jacks Hill last Sunday.

The bushfires have intensified across several parishes due to an ongoing meteorological drought that has impacted 11 of the island’s parishes, including Kingston and St Andrew, St Mary, Portland, St Thomas and Clarendon.

Though the rains from a cold front have provided some level of water for drying rivers, catchment facilities and crops, weather officials are cautioning that this does not equate to the end of the meteorological drought.

In providing a further breakdown of the situation that faced firefighters before the ‘showers of blessing’ since mid-week, Ebanks said in January, for example, the JFB recorded 665 bushfires.

“That number went up to 1,303 for February, and for the first 12 (or) 13 days of March, we were close to 1,000 bushfires, so the rains definitely are a relief,” he said.

File photo of firefighters on the go in response to an emergency.

The public relations officer said such fires were not confined to particular parishes, but rather “right across the length and breath of Jamaica”.

Added Ebanks: “If we look at a parish like St Mary, for example, St Mary is generally low with bushfires, and the parish recorded almost 60 bushfires in one week.”

Overall, the level of such bushfires across the country were “spiralling out of control”, he admitted.

On that score, Ebanks said he was not sure that persons had yielded to the calls for them to desist from lighting such fires.

“We’ve been in the media nonstop; myself, I’ve done probably three, four, five interviews every single day, begging persons to desist from lighting any kind of fire really, except for cooking, but the numbers (of bushfire) just continued going up,” Ebanks indicated.

For the firefighters on the ground, Ebanks said they were “exhausted” because of the number of bushfires being reported.

“… And last year, we got 30 new trucks from the Government, and there were days when we had maybe 60 (or) 70 trucks on the road one day, all day, so I mean that is exhausting for anybody,” he shared.

Even Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) helicopters have had to be integrated in some of the bushfire fights, including a massive one in Jacks Hill, St Andrew last Sunday, as carried in the video below.

However, the firemen and women stuck to their respective efforts to extinguish the blazes.

Ebanks also disclosed that responding to other general fires by the brigade was not impacted by the scale and magnitude of the bushfires that required urgent responses from his colleagues.

“Generally speaking, a lot of the bushfires were emanating in areas where, at first, they would have been inaccessible, so really what it came down to sometimes is watching these fires, making sure that they don’t get to a point where they’re affecting livelihoods, houses and are threat to lives.

“It (the bushfires) really didn’t affect the response (to other fires) like that. All other fires were being attended to, and that is why I said it was exhausting, because we were having these large number of fires and we were still having other fires as well,” Ebanks stated.

Luckily, there were no loss of lives or injuries from the bushfires, because “fortunately”, according to Ebanks, many of those fires were “in farmlands that they were not yet seeing cultivation”.

Additionally, firefighters did not sustain any injuries during their many responses that oftentimes were challenging, given the terrain of the areas where such fires tend to occur, as seen in some social media videos highlighting the valiant efforts of the JFB members to extinguish the blazes.

The drought, said Ebanks, did not affect the ability of firefighters to access water, as they have underground water sources and open lines of communication with the National Water Commission (NWC) to provide additional water, where required.

And with the ongoing rainfalls, the seasoned JFB public relations officer is hopeful that the rains will continue to some much-needed break for his colleagues.

“We are doing the rain dance, and our fingers are crossed that this will put a damper on the situation,” he said with much optimism.

Ebanks is, however, reminding the public that they still have to remain cautious despite the rainfall, as “we’re not yet out of the woods”.

He elaborated that “We’re coming from extremely dry times, so unless the rain continues, certainly, throughout the weekend into next week…, we will go back to dryness in a couple of days maybe, because the drought had the land really thirsty.

“So, we still have to be mindful, we still have to be careful, and I am still saying absolutely no fires unless for cooking,” Ebanks urged.