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Wildfires destroy Cadenas outpost; Move several families in Toledo

We start tonight with the significant losses that the recent wildfires have caused to several Mayan farmers in southern Belize. In San Pedro Columbia, about a hundred farmers have lost their entire farms, depriving them of the only means of survival they depended on. The fires spread to other Mayan communities, causing much of the same damage to farms and rainforests in those villages. Last week there were forest fires that were closely monitored in Crique Jute, Mafredi and San Antonio. Another that threatened the Cadenas outpost near the Sarstoon turned so grim on Friday that smoke in the area made it difficult for soldiers stationed at the outpost to see and breathe. Despite all efforts to save the facility, it was consumed by flames this weekend. While that was happening in those areas, teams from the Ministry of Disaster Risk Management, NEMO, the BDF, the Ya’axché Conservation Trust and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment were fighting fires in other Toledo communities. News Five’s Marion Ali reports.

Marion Ali, Reporting

The fires that have ravaged several communities in the Toledo District have caused significant losses. The fires already threatened communities last weekend when they threatened farms in several Mayan villages, starting in San Pedro, Columbia. By the end of the week, the Cadenas outpost at Graham Creek had also been consumed by the fires. Belize Defense Force Deputy Commander Colonel Anthony Velasquez said the soldiers had to leave the post.

By phone: Col. Anthony Velasquez

By phone: Col. Anthony Velasquez

By phone: Col. Anthony Velasquez, deputy commander of the Belize Defense Force

“We sent aerial reconnaissance to the area and around Thursday the intense smoke forced us to evacuate our soldiers from Cadenas. So they took everything they could, all the movable equipment, and evacuated to the Sarstoon FOB. However, they conducted daily patrols back to the Sarstoon area and tried to remove other items as well. They returned on Saturday and everything was fine, and on Sunday, when they returned, the outpost was set on fire because of the heavy forest fires.”

President of San Pedro, Columbia, Basilicas Choco told us today that teams were able to extinguish the fires over the weekend, but that many farmers were affected by the flames.

Basilicas Choco

Basilicas Choco

Basilicas Choco, President, San Pedro Columbia Village, Toledo

“I would say more than 70 percent of our farmers have been affected. I don’t think any serious houses were burned down. It is just like the camps that farmers usually make on their farms and store corn. Other things they have stored here are the buildings that are being burned down. Cocoa is one of the main crops that has been destroyed, I would say about – the majority – more than 50 farmers who have cocoa fields. There are farmers who are losing their corn, as they said. We have farmers who are losing other fruit trees, coconut palms and other fruit trees that they have, especially the farmers who live on their farms.

TIDE Terrestrial Manager Mario Muschamp said the NGO has played a major role in saving other villages from threats.

Mario Muschamp

Mario Muschamp

Mario Muschamp, Terrestrial Manager, TIDE

“We received a call last Tuesday afternoon from the folks at Ya’axché Conservation Trust about a fire along the highway next to the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve Field Station. They felt that the station was threatened by this fire. And so we were called to help them put out that fire. When we got there, most of Ya’axché’s rangers already had the fire under control. We received a call from rangers patrolling the Golden Stream Corridor Reserve on the boundary line with the Columbia River Forest Reserve. They said there was a fire in there, and based on the information we got from them, that fire had been there for a few days. What we found is that these rocks were actually rolling down the hills, huge boulders, so it was a little scary for us, but we were able to put fire breaks around those hills to make sure that a fire didn’t break out. come down the hills and then spread out into the forest.

NEMO led efforts to suppress the fires, evacuate villagers and has already started mapping losses. Area Representative for Toledo West Oscar Requena toured the affected areas with Disaster Risk Management Secretary Andre Perez. The images shared during that tour show extensive damage to the site and dried out trees where lush greenery once existed. NEMO Coordinator Daniel Mendez told News Five that as soon as they received information about how serious the situation was, they mobilized the District Emergency Management Organization.

Daniel Mendez

Daniel Mendez

Daniel Mendez, coordinator, NEMO

“We were able to get aerial reconnaissance to really understand the extent of the fires. And then we started providing support, immediate support to the communities that were affected. An on-site reconnaissance was carried out by the Honorable Andre Paris, who served as Minister of Blue Economy and Disaster Management alongside the always representative Honorable Oscar Requena. And on that basis it was determined that the impact was very serious, and that a significant amount of money will be needed to restore these areas.”

Classes in the affected villages were suspended until further notice as assessment teams continue to monitor smoke and visibility in those areas. Part of the operation, according to Mendez, included some search and rescue missions and setting up a shelter in Crique Jute Village. While the BDF estimates the loss of the facility at approximately eighty thousand dollars and says it will take a few weeks to replace the outpost in that southernmost part of Belize, Colonel Velasquez assures that Belize’s sovereignty will not be jeopardized by this loss .

By phone: Col. Anthony Velasquez

“The fact that it has burned down does not mean that we will be absent from the area. Our Soldiers will remain in the area and we will also continuously patrol from the Sarasota FOB to the area until repairs are made.

Muschamp warns that the warm weather is a recipe for fire disaster and discourages people from entering the forests to start fires.

Mario Muschamp

‘We’ve been trying to tell people not to use fire at this time of year because it’s harder to control and there’s a good chance you’ll escape. And then when you escape, you don’t know where it will go and what damage it will do. I think it is high time that we as a country promote the wise use of fire and tackle the laws related to fire. We currently have a national policy and strategy for bushfire management sitting on a shelf. If we had put these into use, we could have alleviated many of the problems we encounter.”

Marion Ali for News Five.