HomeCayo DistrictChalillo Dam Still at Risk After Fires Extinguished  

Chalillo Dam Still at Risk After Fires Extinguished  

Chalillo Dam Still at Risk After Fires Extinguished  

Last week, the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve was saved from a potentially devastating fire, as flames spread across the area rapidly. This prompted a collaborative effort between the Belize Forest Department and several stakeholders. Fortis Belize was among the first to lend a hand, as the Chalillo Dam is in the area. The team was able to extinguish the flames before the fires could damage the dam. However, Fortis Belize says that the dam is still not completely in the clear, as the machinery is at risk of being damaged by the soot and ash that will run into the water when it rains. And as the dam’s water supply is relatively low for the demand of the country, amidst the energy crisis, Fortis is in desperate need of rain. We spoke with the team from Fortis Belize to hear how it will handle this damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Here’s News Fives Britney Gordon with that report.


Britney Gordon, reporting

The fires in Mountain Pine Ridge started just over a week ago in an area east of the Chalillo Dam. C.E.O. of Fortis Belize, Kay Menzies, says that the company knew how important it was to assist in the relief mission.


Kay Menzies

Kay Menzies

Kay Menzies, C.E.O., Fortis Belize

“We had a combination of employees and adult family members, volunteers. And we also contracted a number of companies with heavy equipment, including Astrum helicopters and pulled together an action plan in record time for sure which enabled the team on the ground to accomplish basically to protect the BEL transmission line and protect the Chalillo plant with the consciousness, not only of the damage to the Mountain Pine Ridge itself, but what that would have done to the country of Belize if access to those facilities were lost. The team was extremely conscious of what needed to be protected and why it needed to be protected.”


Fortis Belize says that although the fires have been contained, it is still monitoring the situation closely, as there are two major assets at risk in the area. Albert Roches, Environment Manager, Fortis Belize explained that the water supply is also a concern.


Tedford Pate and Albert Roches

Tedford Pate and Albert Roches

Albert Roches, Manager, Fortis Belize

“We had the two major assets that we were looking at were the dam structure, the fire coming close to that area, and our powerhouse. And as well the high-tension power lines that trans transport the electric electricity through to the grid. But like Kay mentioned, it’s not over yet. We’re still in the dry. We’re still vigilant right now. We have a camera, a three-sixty, what you call a P.T.Z. camera, located on top of one of our towers. And so with that, we continually have our control room operators. Monitoring the area, scanning the area to see if there is any new smoke or fire outbreaks in the area, of concern to us now would be the rains that we that should be coming, so we’re just going to be waiting and see what the impact will be with if we get heavy rains, the washing off sediments into the reservoir. And of course, in the longer run that will also impact our water quality coming downstream to the various communities.”


Amid Belize’s energy crisis, the demand for hydroelectricity increased and this has led to the water supply rapidly diminishing. Now, as the company is in desperate need of rain to fill the reservoir, it is at risk of being polluted by soot when it rains.


Britney Gordon

“So speak to me about that situation of how we’re planning to navigate this need for rain, but also expecting that to have a negative impact.”


Albert Roches

“From the environmental side, like you mentioned, whenever you have these forest fires, you normally have what we have in the accumulation of heavy metals. Mercury, arsenic, all of lead that forms when you burn things and with the rains coming down, yes, pretty much needed and we are hoping that when it comes, the initial rains will be some a good one, but some soft ones, not some downpours, and yes, we would like to fill the dam as quickly as we can, but that is something we’ll be monitoring and watching for landslides and also for the loss of topsoil in those areas, and like I said the impacts we’ll be monitoring those. Every quarter we conduct water quality monitoring all the way from the tributaries of the Macal River, all the way down to San Ignacio. So we’ll be getting those results maybe in the next month.”


Operations Manager Tedford Pate says that the current conditions are not very favorable for the generation of power at this point. Fortis hopes that the rains that are forecasted in June will be adequate to replenish the reservoir. He explains that If erosion sedimentation were to build up in the reservoir, the filters would clog.



Tedford Pate

Tedford Pate

Tedford Pate, Operations Manager, Fortis Belize

“Looking at the effects that these forest fires could have with operation it’s actually it’s actually something that we’re already preparing for, we have our filters, we have our teams prepared with work plans in addressing these prior to the rain so that we could have the systems ready and up and running for any additional inflow so that we could generate more power. So while that is a concern from an operational standpoint, we really are hoping for the rains where we’re anticipating enough rain so that we could continue with our supporting of the grid, especially during these times when we’re having power issues in the country. It’s a balancing act. And there is no doubt about it. We didn’t expect these fires to happen, but we have to be able to look at ways to mitigate the issues that come either from an environmental aspect or from our operational aspect and continue providing reliable power to the country.”


Menzies reaffirmed the company’s commitment to providing quality energy to the country and attributed the success of the fire relief mission to the teamwork of the community.


Kay Menzies

“I think right now, everybody’s watching the reservoir with interest and concern. The team is trying to make sure that we keep going as long as we can and from the for the environmental aspect of it, the surroundings of the reservoir are very important to us. So we’re doing some work to figure out how we go forward with this. This is probably the most devastating wildfire we’ve seen in that area since Chalillo was built. So it’s a learning experience for everybody concerned. And one of the things I want to say is that the duration of the worst of the fire was as short as it was because folks on the ground were incredibly organized. The teamwork that we saw come out of this with groups that had not previously worked together.”


Britney Gordon for News Five.

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