A fire that burned more than 200 acres in the Salina Reserve in North Side over two days was extinguished Thursday afternoon, authorities said, though some hotspots remained underground.
The reserve, which is owned and maintained by the Cayman Islands National Trust and is home to hundreds of the protected indigenous Blue Iguana, is described on its website as totaling 646 acres “comprising sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrubland and forest in an intricate mosaic.”
Trust representatives said when the fire started Tuesday evening when a neighboring property owner was clearing land by burning. On Wednesday, firefighters used the Mosquito Research and Control Unit airplane to dump water as the remote fire burned through swamp and shrubland inaccessible by road.
Danielle Watler, with the National Trust, said the fire spread quickly, “devastating much of the interior shrubland habitat.”
The reserve is the only known area where the endemic Agalinis kingsii plant grows, an herb with pink bell-shaped flowers.
Over the past eight years, conservationists have released about 300 Blue iguanas into the reserve, according to National Trust Executive Director Christina Pineda. After the fire, she said, forested areas of the reserve where the iguanas were released seemed to be relatively undamaged, and there was no indication that the endangered iguanas were injured.
Paul Watler, environmental programs manager for the National Trust, said the Trust surveyed the site Wednesday morning. “At the initial burn area, there were bits of debris still smoking, and the ash was very fresh. On further investigation, we reached an area which was horribly burnt. It seems the Typha (bulrush reeds) of the area was especially susceptible and has been devastated,” he said.
Scott Slaybaugh, with the Department of the Environment, went along on the last plane run Wednesday and got a look at the fire. He said it started in the wetlands area of the reserve and “northeast winds pushed it southwest.”
From his vantage point on the MRCU plane Wednesday evening, the fire looked like it had gone through an area 1.5 miles long and about 200 yards wide. “It didn’t appear to be consuming everything in its path,” he said.
The Salina Reserve has burned several times in recent memory, sparked by lightning or, as in this case, burning on adjacent properties. The grasses in the shrubland areas are dry in the winter and are particularly susceptible to fire, according to the National Trust.
Ms. Pineda cautioned people who use fire to clear land. “A small spark in the middle of dry vegetation can get out of hand very quickly, as it did in this instance. Landowners need be considerate of adjoining land owners, even when there are no built structures on site.
“The environmental damage that occurs when people lose control of fires is devastating and completely avoidable if land owners give due care and attention to the task at hand,” she said.