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May 7, 2020

Fire! Fire! Western Belize is on fire!

Tonight, we share more from our trip out west to cover the fires that have been consuming large plots of farmlands and virgin forested areas.  A small group of concerned Benque Viejo residents have taken it upon themselves to try to out the fires and create fire lines to prevent the spread and occurrence of new fires. While it is believed that the fires are as a result of agricultural activities, the weather conditions may also be playing a role in the numbers and severity of these large blazes. Here’s the story.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

For several days fires have been burning through the forest and farmlands along the hydro road in the Cayo District. This is just a few miles outside of Arenal village. Benque resident Mario Hernandez leads a small group of concerned residents who are working to extinguish fires and create fire breaks in the area to try to curb the wildfires. But despite working for ten days, Hernandez is worried that the fires are slowly inching closer to densely populated communities.


Mario Hernandez

Mario Hernandez, Resident, Benque Viejo del Carmen

“My fear is that, we are maybe two miles or a mile and a half from town. And Benque is surrounded by live bush, live nature. So, if this fire continues heading towards our town, it might wipe some of the houses that are around the community that had wildlife around their yards. So, let’s be careful with what we are doing.”


As you travel along the hydro road, most of the vegetation show signs of the times – they are brown and dry because of the heat and reduced water in the soil. And then there are acres and acres of scorched land that the fires have swept through and destroyed – taking with it everything that it touches – including materials for farmers to use for repairs and other cultivation purposes. Farmer Benigno Vanegas knows this first hand after some of his land was destroyed by the fire.


Benigno Vanegas

Benigno Vanegas, Farmer

“Well, here, fire has destroyed more than twenty-five acres of my land, yes.  I need sticks. I need vines. I need cohune leaves. And now that is burnt down, where will I get the thatch to repair the ranch? I no longer have because it has all been destroyed. Because fire, you know, is a destroyer; they are destructive. And my father taught me that we must protect the forest because it gives us life.”


While people in the area believe that there are optimal conditions for forest fires at this time of the year, they say they there are farmers using fire to engage in agricultural activities but they have been unable to control these fires which causes them to go wild and destroy large swathes of forested areas and land under cultivation. Hernandez appeals to those lighting fires, while he calls for help. He says he needs volunteers, protective gears and the proper equipment to tackle the fires.


Mario Hernandez

“The old guys are use to chop a little bush; make a fire line and burn. But this fire got out of control and it was too hot. There was too much sun heat and a lot of leaves are dry.   People, please, if you are going to burn farms, make sure you make a nice fire line because fire is running. As you can see, we are here and we are going to go and make a fire line for this bush so that it doesn’t continue.  We need people with courage and people who know what they are doing. This thing is risky and dangerous. You can lose your life in these fires or maybe you can get burned.  I am very frustrated and very sad and concerned about what is happening in my hometown because it affects a lot in the community.”


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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