By Ketricia Finch
St. Kitts Reporter
Drivers making their way along the airport road early last Saturday evening were both surprised and frightened by the sight of flames and smoke near the Power Station.
Fire trucks and their crew stood helplessly by watching the roaring fire as it spread across the cane fields opposite the island’s main energy supply.
The Observer was present at the scene and spoke to one of the firemen, who said that he was positive that the fires were being purposely set.
“This fire actually started since around 11 am and we responded. We sent in the tractors to out the fire. We got it under control only to get a call later this afternoon that the same field was blazing again. Someone or some people have to be setting these fires. I think that they are using some sort of fuel to ignite these cane field fires,” he said.
The fire blazed for hours casting off tremendous heat and high reaching flames. A large amount of ash was also spread onto the road and nearby residences.
The homeowners and business people in the area said that they were scared that the fire might have reached some of the nearby buildings. Some said that they thought the electrical wires would have caught fire as well.
“I swear the fire was going to somehow get across the street and reach my house. I could hear the crackling and feel the heat from it from right on my property. Whoever is doing this needs to stop because they don’t realize that sooner or later either somebody house going to catch fire or somebody could lose their life,” one terrified Kittstodart resident lamented.
The Observer contacted Fire Chief Hester Rawlins, who reiterated the theory that the recent spates of cane fires were being maliciously set.
“It’s obvious that people are intentionally starting these fires. Luckily, it’s not that easy for fires in those fields to spread too far. The area, in particular Pond’s Estate…there are quite a number of fire breaks have been made there, so it’s not easy for fires to cross from one area to the other,” Rawlins said adding that the overhead electrical wires were not affected by the blaze.
Rawlins pointed out that from the Frigate Bay area going eastwards to Gate Way Inn has multiple firebreaks, which he explained meant that paths were cleared of bush and kept bare of plant growth and debris. This, he said, prevented fires from spreading over a wide expanse since there would be nothing to ignite.
“It would have to take a very strong wind or malicious spreading to cause the fires to spread out of control. In terms of fires spreading past fire breaks on their own, it’s not impossible but it’s not very easy.”
The Fire Chief reminded persons that maliciously causing fires could be extremely dangerous and probably life threatening. He said the dry season has come upon us very early this year and the willful act of lighting cane fields is no joke.
“I think it’s worthlessness on behalf of those persons who are setting fires to the sugar cane because it can endanger lives and people’s properties. Maliciously setting fires or Arson is an offence punishable by fines or lengthy jail time. Sentencing for arsonists varies but if persons are hurt or get killed in those fires then that’s a whole other set of more serious charges,” Rawlins said.
He spoke of another cane fire that occurred last Thursday afternoon near the Ross University campus. He said he suspected that the fire was caused by someone burning something nearby that got out of control, rather than willful interference.
“The fire didn’t really endanger anyone because they had a good fire break and the school was saved because of the way the wind was blowing. It didn’t affect the houses on the western side either,” he said.
Rawlins said in certain areas where fire trucks cannot easily gain access, SSMC tractors are sent in to oust the fires. He assured that even though the trucks could not physical get to the fire, they responded and provided back up and a supply of water for the tractors.
Rawlins said that is fortunate that there have been no recent reports of house fires. He also said it is the department’s duty to respond to any sort of fire in case of any problem that may arise which could threaten property or lives.