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Residents Thank the Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio,
Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the
odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of
Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and
. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000
hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was
happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began
April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on
radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of
El Guay, tells 14ymedio.

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues
of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked
daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by
the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to
do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely
rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster
on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later
disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the
Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities
later reported that several local administrators had not authorized
delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to
the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the
branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The
combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions
favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a
strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the
Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could
suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares.
The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures,
forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental
specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to
flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no
bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented
one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba
province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur
“in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the
invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of
spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to
start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year
and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than
one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas,
Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human
factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor
Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of
year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to
“have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent
those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and
“that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this
time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real.
The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle
of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the
flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the
first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept
raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is
suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century.
For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they
know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Source: Residents Thank the Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire –
Translating Cuba –

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