Fire stops Brac clean-up

Cayman Islands fire officials are investigating a suspicious fire that engulfed the lone trash grinder on Cayman Brac.

The blaze was reported just after dawn Wednesday morning by Department of Environmental Health crews who were arriving for work at the site behind the Agricultural Ground on The Bluff.

No one was injured when flames broke out, but fire crews said the machine, a tub grinder being used to grind debris from Hurricane Paloma, was a total loss and could not immediately be replaced.

Minister of Works and Infrastructure Arden McLean said post-Paloma clean-up operations on the Brac would be suspended until the new year as a result of the fire.

‘If this is another senseless act of vandalism, it would make it the second in as many weeks in Cayman Brac and demonstrates a complete disregard and utter disrespect for the wellbeing of the people of Cayman Brac and the recovery efforts there,’ Mr. McLean told Legislative Assembly members Wednesday afternoon.

Last week, vandals broke into Cayman Brac High School and ransacked the school’s home economics room and computer lab, destroying computers, phones and other equipment. It was unknown if the two incidents were related. The school re-opened on Monday.

No arrests have been made in either the school vandalism or the trash grinder fire.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Steve Webster said an arson investigator and police crime scene technicians were sent from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac Wednesday afternoon to investigate the fire. Mr. Webster said that by Thursday morning officials had not determined what caused the blaze, but did consider it suspicious.

Mr. Webster said the diesel-fuelled grinder was situated beside a huge mound of mulch and investigators were trying to determine if the mulch heap was set ablaze and the fire spread to the machine, or whether the machine itself had been set on fire.

The Department of Environmental Health recently had a new trash grinder shipped in from Ohio, following Hurricane Paloma, but were unable to deliver it to Cayman Brac due to rough sea conditions.

Mr. McLean said that the new $600,000 grinder which can separate metal waste from vegetation and cement, had been due to be shipped to the Brac on Wednesday, but that had now been put on hold.

The trash compacting site was closed Wednesday because of concerns about the safety of environmental health crews.

Mr. McLean said: ‘It leaves the government with no alternative other than remove the staff from the Department of Environmental Health and secure the remainder of the equipment being used in the clean-up operations because we cannot guarantee the safety of our staff. I have therefore instructed to have them removed without delay.’

There are about 30 Environmental Health staff working daily on the clean-up operations on the Brac.

Mr. McLean said he had also instructed that 24-hour security be put in place to protect the remaining equipment from any further acts of vandalism.