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Apr 20, 2020

186 Fires Recorded on Monday in Belize!

More than one hundred fires were recorded on a single day in Belize last week posing serious risks to human health and the wider environment.  Air quality measurement tools showed that the air recorded in Belmopan on Friday morning wasn’t suitable for breathing. The western parts of the country have recorded heavy smoke that has lingered for hours.  But this fire problem extends throughout the country with high number of illegal fires recorded in the west, north, central and even parts of the south. Tonight, we can tell you that while laws are being drafted to make these fires illegal during this state of emergency, close to two hundred fires were burning in the country today alone. That was preceded by a high number recorded between Friday and Saturday. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

One hundred and eight-six fires were burning today across Belize. As this map indicates, the highest number of fires was recorded in Cayo. Just a few days ago, between Friday and Saturday, two hundred and four fire points recorded in Belize. These fires were spread across the country, with the biggest numbers recorded in the Orange Walk and Cayo Districts. These fires are mostly from agricultural activities.


Jan Meerman

Jan Meerman, Technical Advisor, Monitoring Biodiversity & Climate Change in Selva Maya Project (Belize)

“It is really agricultural fires. People set their farms ablaze. This is the dry season and people are preparing for the next planting season that is traditionally done by burning. We see that every year , every dry season but this year it is probably a little worse than other times because we had a very dry year behind us and also the drought is still continuing and it is even drier that  than it normally should be. So, a lot of vegetation that surrounds those farms is drier than we would expect and they escape and go into the bush, so these fires continue burning.”


…and when these fires go uncontrolled they can burn for days or even weeks. A wildfire can burn down an entire forest and kill any living thing in its path – which can be devastating not just for wildlife, but for communities as well. These fires also affect visibility, air quality and health. And most of these wildfires are started by people, and the high temperatures, dry leaves and wind only help to fan the flames.


Raul Chun

Raul Chun, Forest Officer, Forestry Department

“Practices are not being done with preventative measures, so we have probably fires escaping and getting into forested areas and getting to be wild fires. That is why we are seeing a lot of fires in Belize, actually in unprecedented numbers.   It’s just a lot of heat and the conditions are optimum for fires to actually ignite and spread and that is really the cause of most of the fires going on and it is really concerning.  We are in a drought and all the vegetation are really dry and ready to burn. We can easily experience what was observed in Australia and Brazil last year. Our vegetation is really dry and can make for a very dangerous situation.”


But this growing number of fires is not unique to Belize.  With a surge in fires reported in the neighbouring countries, air currents also blow some of that pollution our way. Because the threat of these fires is real and serious, the Wildlife Conservation Society has been working with several of these countries to address this issue. It’s being done through a project called Meso-American Five Great Forests Initiative.


Kamille Pennil

Kamille Pennil, CITED Coordinator, WCS

“What we have seen through-out the region really is an increase of forest fires and they have determined that to be due mainly to the agricultural fires which of course includes cattle ranching. So, one of the main drivers for deforestation in the area and forest fires is agriculture. So, people are intentionally setting fires so that they can clear land, drive wild life out of the forest to hunt them. And then of course so that they can plant their ranch and have cattle. We are seeing it across the region and now we are seeing it in Belize.  We work with different organizations and governments and communities and the goal of that really is to protect and manage the forest in this region. The aim is to protect ten million hectares of forests and also to recover five thousand hectares of forests that have either been illegal cleared or destroyed. And of course to stomp out illegal cattle ranching because this is definitely a huge threat to the forest and being a driver of forest fires.”


The Forest Department calls on the public to refrain from lighting fires during this time. Because these fires cause a number of airborne particles to accumulate outside temporarily this would also pose even more health risks for COVID-19 patients.


Raul Chun

“There are fire laws that need to be adhered to and right now as it is with this COVID-19 pandemic, the patients that are actually positive with this virus I am sure they may be experiencing complications with all this smoke, the poor air quality that we are having at this time. I just hope that people can understand and show that consideration to fellow citizens.”


This week a new piece of legislation will be passed that will make the lighting of fires illegal during the state of emergency. Once it is passed, this law will be used to prosecute persons who do not adhere. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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