Growing increase in brush fires – Fire Chief

Guyana Fire Service (GFS) Fire Chief Marlon Gentle

To date, the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) has received over 2,000 fire calls with 60 per cent of these relating to outdoor fires which continue to pose a grave threat to the health of citizens affected.

On Monday, Fire Chief Marlon Gentle sat down with the Guyana Chronicle on its online programme, Vantage Point, where he provided detailed statistics on the effects of fires in 2019 and the years past. Statistics show that a total of 1,418 outdoor vegetation fires were reported by affected residents; 221 calls were made for fires at private buildings; 69 relating to motor vehicles; 33 at businesses; 22 at government properties and four in relation to generator fires. As a result, 349 persons were rendered homeless at the various periods; seven have died and five others have been injured.

However, stating the reason for the most frequent calls, Mr Gentle said that these calls have come in from people identified as persons with respiratory problems, the elderly and others conscious about the detriments of the inhalation of smoke. “These are fires that are burning on vegetation and on parapets, garbage heaps and so on, and these are fires that are deliberately set for more than one purposes [such as] land clearing, agriculture clearing, persons who, in certain communal areas, use that to encourage the growth of fresh grass for the grazing of cattle and animals,” he explained.

In 2018, the total figure for the year stood at 748 which shows an increase in the number of concerned calls coming in about outdoor vegetation fires. “It’s not really a challenge to the fire service but it’s more of a difficulty to the people who live around there,” Gentle explained. “Yes, we’re busier; we have to direct more resources to these types of fires which ought not to have happened in the first place, but the challenge mainly is the environmental issues that come from these fires. Persons are affected by the smoke from these fires, especially from the garbage heap-type fires where rubber and different types of materials give off very pungent and toxic odors and smoke.”

Apart from health challenges, the Fire Chief said that the GFS has noticed that public infrastructure is also being damaged such as bridges, culverts, roadway parapets, electrical installations such as lamp polls; telecommunication infrastructure and more. “Based on our research on the Laws of Guyana, setting fires in any place other than a kitchen for cooking purposes is illegal and if these fires damage public property also,it’s something that someone could be prosecuted for,” he said.

The government has long promoted that burning of garbage is an alternative and not a primary option as it pollutes the air, causing global warming.

Meanwhile, the second highest reason given for calls countrywide has been attributed to the failure of citizens to take special caution when cooking, dealing with household appliances, attending to small children. While fires have been started due to electrical malfunctioning, many others have affected private buildings as a result of the illegal tampering of electricity wires, domestic disputes and more. In 2018, the total fires attended to by the GFS stood at 250 while it climbed to the highest in 2016 at 287.

Regarding motor vehicles, over the last three to four years, the Fire Chief said: “What we’re seeing, too, is a trend of persons destroying motor vehicles by fires and our analysis is showing us that two things are happening: there are property issues or disputes and there is also some level of insurance activity…fires deliberately set to damage motor vehicles, especially the high-end cars.” There have been 2,710 ambulance calls as of September 2019 as the services of the GFP are being utilised. Over 662 firefighters and emergency responders are working at 17 fire stations across the country while three auxiliary fire stations are in the hinterland.