Fire Awareness and Prevention

Participants in the Race Against Fire

Participants in the Race Against Fire

In today’s “What Do We See In This Picture” I have pulled an image from our archives. What you’re looking at is a group of previous race participants in our annual Race Against Fire receiving some pre-race instructions.

We sponsor this annual event each spring to bring awareness to the impact fire has on the land and communities of the Toledo district. We are currently in the dry season in Belize. The sun is hot, there is no rain and the land is drying out. This is also the time of year that traditional slash-and-burn farmers begin clearing their land, looking to get their seeds planted before the rains start again in June. Driving around the region over the last week, we have already seen a few fires starting to burn.

Like any region with a high chance of fire, the key to averting disaster is mitigating risk and raising awareness.  Each year the government clears fire breaks in the pine savannas which extend along the flat lands of northern Toledo and throughout other districts.  The idea is that if a fire does break out in an area, it will be restricted to that area and will not be able to “leap the breaks” to other sections of land.  Unfortunately this technique is not feasible in the broad leaf forests of southern Toledo, the Maya Mountains and the lands around Ya’axche-managed protected areas.  The terrain is rough and the bush is thick.  Traditionally there wasn’t much risk of natural fires in these rain forests, but the region is still feeling the effects of 2001’s Hurricane Iris which felled many trees and provided fuel for very major fire seasons.  The worst of these fire seasons were in 2003 and 2008.

Slash-and-burn agriculture represents the single greatest fire threat humans put on the local forests.  Though regulations require farmers to obtain burn permits and establish precautions against unchecked burning, these rules can be very difficult to enforce in rural Belize. At Ya’axche, we’ve taken to raising awareness about fire, and to educating local residents about alternatives to slash-and-burn.

The easiest alternative is “slash-and-mulch.”  When a farmer clears bush for a farm plot, he should simply leave the clippings on the ground.  No fire is introduced, and the decaying plant matter provides nutrients for the young crops (usually corn), shades the earth from the hot sun, impedes weed growth, and mitigates erosion once the rains start again.  And, quite simply, it requires less work of the farmer than slash-and-burn.

But the annual Race Against Fire is not just about fire, it is also about fun.  We organize a wide variety of events in addition to the bike race.  There will be football/soccer and volleyball matches, eating contests, corn and coconut shucking contests, dancing and traditional music.  It will be a lot of fun!

Look to our Flickr account next week for pictures from the event, and have a safe fire season.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Race Against Fire, a community event designed to bring awareness to fire issues.  We’ve discussed the event previously, and showed off the local flier, but we really wanted one more post so we could show off this […]

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