Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2020. 9:18 pm CST.
By BBN Staff: Over the Easter weekend, very high daytime temperatures were recorded which along with the long dry are perfect conditions for fires to get out of hand. 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.
The departments continue to work diligently to mitigate these fires and urge the public to cease burning.
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