No long-term damage in Salina fire, Trust believes

Blue iguana habitat spared

A fire two weeks ago in the Salina Reserve did not burn the habitat of the endangered blue iguanas, according to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.  

Representatives of the Trust, which owns the land, said the damage was confined to the grassland areas. 

The fire, suspected to have been caused by a neighboring property owner clearing land, burned more than 200 acres from Jan. 27 to 29. National Trust director Christina Pineda said the fire sparked again two days later but died out the same night. 

“The damage was not as bad as we originally thought,” Ms. Pineda said. In fact, she said, “grasslands can benefit from controlled burning.” 

With the blue iguanas’ forest habitat safe, the only other endangered species is an herb known by its scientific name Agalinis kingsii, which is only found on the edges of the Salina Reserve grassland. Research into the plant in 1999 found that fires in the grassland do not harm the overall survival of the species. 

“We’re waiting until April to see if there’s a full recovery,” Ms. Pineda said of the grassland as a whole, including Agalinis kingsii. “It will take a few months, and this time next year it should be back to what it was.”  

Ms. Pineda said the National Trust’s governing council plans to meet this week to consider possible legal measures against the person or people who may have been responsible for the fire as they burned to clear their land. 

In the meantime, she hopes to work with the Fire Service to host workshops on responsible land clearing. 

Fire Service acting chief John Bodden said burning brush “is totally illegal.” Even putting the brush in a drum and burning it is against the law. “We have it all the time,” he said of people using burning as way to clear land. “They try to make the fire look like an accident.” 

If the Fire Service catches someone illegally burning brush, the person is referred to the Department of Environment, which may issue a warning or a fine. For habitual offenders, Mr. Bodden said, the Fire Service files a complaint with the police. 

Adrian Seales, with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said the police service has not received a complaint about the Salina fire. He said that burning [in general] would be considered a “reckless and dangerous act,” a Category B offense carrying a possible four-year prison term.