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Fires continue to be one of the leading causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Jamaica with over 13 hectares of forests in the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve destroyed in less than two months.

One of the fires which occurred in the Halberstadt area of the reserve started on June 23, 2021 and was only completely extinguished on July 4, 2021, destroying 4 plots covering 8 hectares. The tree species destroyed were Blue Mahoe, Cedar, Spanish Elm, Jamaican Mahogany, Honduras Mahogany, Bitter Damsel and Wild Tamarind which were planted in the 2017-2018 and 2020-2021 financial years.

Miss Tiphany LaBeach, Forest Technician for Forest Management, said contractors and community members attempted to extinguish the blaze, “however, the presence of embers led to the flames rekindling as the days grew more windy. Thankfully, we got some heavy rains on July 4 that completely extinguished the flames and embers. We did our assessment and the damage is quite extensive with the survival rate in the plots between two to three percent,” she shared.

Meanwhile, Forest Technician for Forest Management, Miss Keamisha Smith, says all 4.27 hectares of one plot in the Newton section of the reserve were completely destroyed.

Approximately 3000 Cedar, Blue Mahoe and Jamaican Mahogany seedlings were destroyed. Over $450,000 was spent to plant the area and thousands more to maintain it.

Miss Smith shared that if it were not for the help of several men who created emergency fire lines at strategic points, the fire would have impacted other plots.

“Their response was quite swift, they used the resources they had on hand which included machete and hoes to cut and remove vegetation that would have caused the fire to spread,” she said.

While the cause of the fire that affected the plots in Halberstadt is unknown, the fire in Newton appears to have come from land close to the forest reserve. The Forestry Department is reminding the public that it is illegal to light fires within 1km of a forest estate and is warning offenders that stricter penalties are on the horizon to prosecute persons who continue to destroy critical forest resources.

The public is also being reminded that under the Forest Act, (1996) and Forest Regulations, (2001) it is illegal to make use of an open fire or charcoal kiln in or within 1 km of a forest estate and activities such as keeping, kindling or carrying a fire in a forest reserve, forest management area or protected area are prohibited. The Forestry Department is warning that stricter penalties are on the horizon to prosecute persons who continue to destroy critical forest resources.

Under the Country Fires Act, (1942) any person who sets fire to any trash on land is guilty of an offence unless the occupier of such land first notifies the police and occupiers of adjoining lands of his intention to burn. The Act also prohibits the lighting of fires between 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Additionally, the Natural Resources Conservation (Environmental Protection Measures) Order, (2016) makes February 1 to October 31 a no open burning period. This includes the burning of solid waste, careless disposal of lighted flames including cigarette butts and the use of slash and burn methods for clearing land.

If you notice a forest fire or an unattended or out-of-control fire near to a forest, call the Jamaica Fire Brigade at (876) 922-0007 or (876) 922-0027, the Jamaica Constabulary Force at 119 or the Forestry Department at (876) 618-3205.

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