Update: Bush Fire Blazes Mount St. Benedict for the 5th Day

Bush fire across Mount Tabor, seen from Riverview Gardens in Maracas Valley. Photo: Kevan Lalla

Burning trees and brush near Riverview Gardens, Maracas Valley, taken by resident Kevan Lalla, as the Mount Tabor fire rages for the 5th straight day.

A multi-day fire at Mt. St. Benedict continues to rage across Mount Tabor and the Northern Range as of Sunday night. This fire has allegedly been burning since March 20th across Mount Tabor, near Mt. St. Benedict Church.

Fire on Mount Tabor on March 20th 2019, captured by Charles de Matas.

This fire has been producing smoky conditions across communities near the Northern Range including St. Augustine.

Fire on Mount Tabor, near Mount St. Benedict Church, on March 23rd 2019.

These fires, and its associated smoke can decrease visibility and air quality levels in areas surrounding the fire, as well as areas downwind.

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The nearest installed air quality monitors in San Juan and Sangre Grande are currently recording air quality index values between 20-40. This is some of the lowest values since March 12th, before the dense plume of Saharan Dust arrived across region. Air quality is expected to remain between good to moderate levels over the next 5 days.

These readings should be taken lightly, as the air quality is a highly localized measure. Air quality in St. Augustine, near the fire, is likely reduced to moderate levels at minimum, and even unhealthy for sensitive groups in areas near the fire in the Maracas Valley. There are no private air quality stations, or public ambient air quality measuring stations in the area by the EMA for measurements to verify air quality levels.

Video of the Mount Tabor fire, taken approximately 5:00PM Sunday March 24th 2019 by Marlon Marine, posted to Facebook.

Over the past 32 years, almost every part of Trinidad’s Northern Range has been set to burn by man, killing millions of trees, animals and destroying vital forest cover.

According to the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Northern Range has a land mass of 277,167.23 acres (112,165.6 hectares). This means the city of San Fernando can fit some 58 times into the Northern Range, while the city of Port-of-Spain can fit almost 94 times.

A document provided by Forestry shows that every year there are hundreds of for­est fires and thou­sands of acres are de­stroyed. Be­tween 1987 and 2018, a to­tal of 276,758.027 acres (112,473 hectares) were burnt, all in fires start­ed by man.

Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, March 16th 2019, Sharlene Rampersad

Persons in the area have made repeated calls to the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service. However, the general response has been the TTFS is responding to other fires in the area, to “we can’t do much about it.”

Video of the Mount Tabor bush fire nearing homes in Maracas Valley, near Riverview Gardens. Residents have been using water from the nearby St. Joseph River to keep the fire at bay. Video: Kevan Lalla

Residents living in Riverview Gardens, Maracas Valley have taken matters into their own hands to protect their properties. The residents have been using water from the nearby St. Joseph River to create barriers, preventing the fire from crossing and nearing their property. However, the fire remains at the helm of the winds. Strong gusts in their direction can spell disaster for properties along the fire line.

As of Monday evening, Forest Rangers were on site attempting to limit the spread of the fire as it continues to rage for its 5th day. While instinctively the public would call for the Trinidad and Tobago Fire Service to aid in fire extinguishing, the forests of the Northern Range are managed by the Forest Rangers, in the Forestry Division, which fall under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Forest Rangers on Monday Evening Attempting to Limit the Spread of the Mount Tabor Fire

In severe fires, which threaten human life and property, the Forestry Division partners with the Ministry of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty, as well as the T&T Air Guard. The Na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Op­er­a­tion Cen­tre (NSOC) and the T&T Air Guard would utilise some of their he­li­copters for aer­i­al fire-fight­ing. At­tached to each he­li­copter would be a Bam­bi Buck­et – a spe­cialised con­tain­er to col­lect and de­liv­er wa­ter in order to ex­tin­guish fires be­low.

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This is a developing story. Updates will be posted at they are made available.

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