Bushfire Increase Worries NFA Chief

‘Such fires can easily get out of control and pose huge risks to sugar cane farms, properties, travelling public and to the lives of the members of the community’ Bush
06 Dec 2015 10:30
Bushfire Increase Worries NFA Chief
Riwan Khan in his sandalwood farm that got destroyed by a fire in Nasoso, Nadi yesterday. Photo: LUKE NACEI

‘Such fires can easily get out of control and pose huge risks to sugar cane farms, properties, travelling public and to the lives of the members of the community’

Bush fires are on the rise in western and northern Fiji following the onset of summer’s dry weather.

They have prompted the National Fire Authority to issue warnings about lighting fires.

Some motorists yesterday complained about poor visibility on the roads in the West because of the haze caused by smoke blown across roads by strong winds.

Bush, grass and sugarcane fires create high risks to safety of people and property. They also damage the environment.

In one incident, firefighters got there just in time to prevent a bushfire engulfing a house. Bushfires are caused by either careless human acts or natural cause like lightening.

The National Fire Authority has been conducting a public awareness campaign about the dangers of bushfires. While bushfires threaten property and lives, they also impose considerable pressure on the resources of the fire brigade. Firefighters could be out battling a bushfire and unable to respond quickly to a house fire in a town or city.

Despite a concerted effort to create public awareness, the NFA is still concerned over the increased number of these fires around the Western and Northern divisions.

NFA stations have been receiving numerous calls.

NFA’s chief executive officer John O’Connor says daily, some stations receive close to 10 to 15 calls.

From January to October this year they have attended to a total of 1109 bush, grass, sugarcane and rubbish fires.

“Such fires can easily get out of control and pose huge risks to sugar cane farms, properties, travelling public and to the lives of the members of the community,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Even a small cigarette butt thrown in pile of rubbish can ignite a fire, which can be out of control.”

“We have already attended to a number of property fires this year which have been caused by out of control rubbish, sugarcane, bush and grass fires.

“We are seeking the support of members of the community to prevent such fires.”

Bushfires are common in Australia however with the dry season experienced in Fiji and other parts of the world, bushfires are happening.

In Fiji a recent example of bush fire danger was in Tuatua, Labasa. A church was almost burned down by a bushfire but quick action by firefighters saved it. However, a huge sandalwood investment farm in Nasoso, Nadi, was not so lucky. A fire destroyed it, causing a $200, 000 damage.

These happened because of the senseless acts of people who had ignored warnings.

“Majority of such fires occur quite a distance from our stations in our rural communities and attending to such fires compromises NFA’s ability and capability to respond to property fires and other emergency calls which comes at the same time.”


Weather and wind

Weather plays a major role in the severity of bushfires. The hotter and dryer the weather which Fiji is facing because of EL Nino the more likely bushfires can start and spread quickly.

Wind speed can influence a bushfire by pushing the fire forward, the stronger the wind the faster the fire can spread.

“NFA is very concerned taking into consideration the current dry and windy conditions experienced in the western and northern divisions under which these fires would easily get out of control and spread to nearby farms and properties putting at risk the lives of members of the community,” Mr O’Connor said.


Hindrance to drivers

The smoke from these fires is a hindrance to vehicle owners and drivers both at night or day time.

Yesterday in Lautoka, while the fire died down, smoke filled the air and vehicles passing the area had their headlights on in the morning.

“This is another concern apart from property threats and because of such acts, accidents can happen and it can be disastrous,”  said Mr O’Connor.

“We are urging members of the community to refrain from starting such fires during this dry and hot weather periods. Members of the communities are urged to consider other forms of rubbish disposal and clearing of bush and grass fields.”


NFA boosting fire stations

The NFA has boosted their fire stations throughout with two trucks each.

“So each station has two trucks which allowed the team to respond to those several calls, which should not be a problem to attend to fire call, but we are still concerned and we want everyone to work together and take responsibility,” Mr O’Connor said.

The authority has received an allocation of $4 million to purchase fire trucks, upgrade equipment and build a fire station in Nabouwalu while $900,000 has been allocated for more fire hydrants in the country in the 2016 budget.

Two new fire stations in Taveuni and Korovou are expected to open soon while groundwork has started for the new station in Nakasi.


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