MRCU plane fights fire

The Mosquito Research and Control Unit spray plane went into action as a fire-fighting plane Monday to assist with the fire that has been burning the interior of East End for more than a week.

Mrs. Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, said the MRCU aircraft was converted to a fire-bombing plane. Pilot Mr. Richard Clough flew over the fire about 11 times carrying fresh water in the hopper of the plane and dropping it.

The hopper, on the underbelly of the aircraft, would ordinarily carry larvicide or pellets for fighting mosquitoes.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said the department was alerted to the fire last Thursday evening, although it had been burning for several days at that time.

The Fire Department has been monitoring the situation, along with the Department of Environment.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Roy Grant emphasised that the fire was not endangering any homes.

‘Under normal circumstances, we’d let it burn out,’ he said.

But the circumstances were not normal because the area of the burning was near the Salina Reserve, home to endangered Cayman Blue Iguanas and other native wildlife.

Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said there had been quite a collaborative effort in dealing with danger to the Salina Reserve.

On Saturday, members of the Fire Department went into the area along the northern front of the fire with Department of Environment staff, Mr. Fred Burton of the National Trust Blue Iguana Recovery programme and volunteers.

Cayman Helicopter pilot Mr. Jerome Begot dropped some people in the area on Saturday morning; they walked the rest of the way and fought the fire by hand. When it became clear that a revised strategy was needed, permission was obtained to use the MRCU plane, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said.

Mr. Begot also did reconnaissance on the fire.

As of Tuesday morning, ‘we still see some smouldering to the south and east of the Reserve, in the dense forest and we’re trying to assess the situation,’ Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said.

She said DoE was in the process of supplying maps of the area to Mr. Grant and his men to determine whether fire trucks could get to the area via farm roads if more water were needed.

Also yesterday, Mr. Burton was with a group in the Salina Reserve radio-tracking iguanas to see how or if they were affected. From where he was, he said he thought the fire was out.

No cause of the fire has been determined and Mr. Grant declined to speculate.

He did agree that right now ‘It’s really dry. There are lots of leaves on the ground, other dry vegetation.’

Damage from Hurricane Ivan has added another fair amount, he indicated.

‘It adds up to a lot of fuel on the ground.’

According to the website of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, the Salina Reserve was established in 1988 by a Crown land grant of 625 acres in the northeast portion of Grand Cayman. The area is important because of its diversity of wildlife and habitats. The endangered Cayman Blue Iguanas have been captive-bred and then released in the Salina Reserve since 1993.

The website identifies fire as a complex issue in the management of the Salina Reserve.

Those questions include whether the occasional dry season burning threatens or benefits a unique plant there; whether fire is a natural part of the system; whether man should attempt to limit fire in this area or leave it alone.