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Fire, fire, and more fire!

HeadlineFire, fire, and more fire!

Photo: Active forest fire in the distance

by Kristen Ku

BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 20, 2024

This year’s dry season, typically spanning from December to May, has been notably harsh, bringing with it extreme heat waves. The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, with patterns of less rainfall, more frequent and severe droughts, and rising temperatures. Last Friday, a weather station in Chaa Creek, Cayo District, recorded temperatures as high as 108°F, approaching the record of 110°F set in 1976.

The intense heat has not only affected the comfort of Belizeans, but has also had a severe impact on the country’s flora and fauna, leading to widespread wild bush and forest fires. In recent days, the Toledo District, along with the Belize and Cayo Districts, has witnessed devastating fires that have severely impacted agriculture, wildlife, homes, and air quality.

Last Thursday, a fire in San Pedro Columbia Village burned over 15,000 acres of land within two days. In response, the Toledo District Emergency Operations Centre was activated, and an emergency meeting was held with representatives from the Fire Department, the Forest Department, the Ministry of Infrastructure Development and Housing, the Ministry of Transport, the Belize Defence Force, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE).

Initial assessments were conducted, and a plan of action was developed to provide immediate humanitarian support to affected families. Additionally, the Government has declared a State of Public Emergency in the Toledo District, effective May 19.

The Statutory Instrument (SI), approved by Governor General H.E. Dame Froyla Tzalam, will be in effect for a month, and includes the villages of San Pedro Columbia, Crique Jute, San Miguel, Mafredi, Na Lum Cah, and San Antonio, all within the Toledo District.

Similarly, other areas, including the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve, have also been affected by forest fires, prompting the Ministry of Sustainable Development to issue a public notice advising against visiting the area due to the ongoing fires.

Deputy Chief Forest Officer, John Pinelo, Jr. explained that efforts to control the fire have been ongoing since it started last Thursday, with support from partners such as Fortis and BulRidge Limited.

“The [Forest] Department has been controlling the direction of the fire, but the wind does not help us either. We’re actually out actively working on putting out the fires, trying to protect the infrastructure that we have, mostly the Douglas Forest Station. The weather plays a major role in it, because it’s been extremely hot, 104, 105 degrees, which is a perfect condition for the fire. It dries out everything, and then with the fuel load on the ground, when you have the wind added to that, it is even more threatening,” he told Amandala.

The widespread fires have resulted in significant smoke accumulation, affecting air quality not only in Belize, but also in neighboring countries like Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

Pinelo advised the public to avoid unnecessary outdoor activities, especially for those with respiratory issues, and to wear masks if needed to avoid inhaling smoky air. He also urged residents to refrain from activities that could worsen the situation, such as burning bush or milpa, and to report any fires to the Forest Department immediately.

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