Sunday, September 23, 2012

Too Close for Comfort

As I mentioned in a previous post, the four lots just down the lane from our house were recently purchased by a woman from the States. She contracted with a local guy to clear the land, which he did.

With all the bush and a good number of trees chopped down, the game plan was that the contractor would burn off the debris. Well this past Wednesday, he did exactly that and then some. We weren’t home for a good part of the day, but here’s what we were told happened:

Sometime after 9:00 a.m., the contractor struck the match to the lots. 

What ensued was less than optimal, to say the least. For starters, he never let Delia (our neighbor and whose house abuts the cleared property) or Fernando know that Wednesday would be “Burn Day.” Apparently, the smoke and ash were so intense that Fernando couldn’t see or breathe, Delia had to leave her house, and, I would think the dogs belonging to us and Delia were having breathing issues as well.  This kept up for a few hours, because the contractor didn’t do anything resembling a controlled burn.

Then the contractor left, even though flames were still visible and there was still a great deal of smoke, and never returned.  

Around 1:00 p.m., Fernando told us that the flames jumped the lane and proceeded to burn along the property line opposite our house, with flames leaping several feet in the air.

When we arrived home around 3:00 p.m., we immediately noticed the clouds of smoke coming from the lot’s direction as soon as we entered the lane. The closer we got to the house, we saw the brush on our right was burned beyond belief, and we could hear the fire crackling all along that side. 

The smoke burned your eyes and there was ash flying around everywhere. We immediately checked in with Fernando to find out what the hell was going on.

When we got into the house, everything, and I mean everything, was covered in ash.  The smoke didn’t clear out for another few hours, but you could still hear and smell some stuff burning throughout the night.

Here’s what the areas looked like after the burn:

Cleared lot before burn

Lot after the burn. Delia’s house is just to the right of this picture.

The lane in front of the burned lots, impassable from debris and wood pile.

The fire jumped across the lane and burned down the left side in this shot.
Our property is on the right.

The damage extended several feet deep. So much so that a house that’s been under construction on the opposite lane and never visible from our place because of the dense brush, can now be clearly seen.

The trunks and lower branches of these palm trees were burnt like toast.

So here’s the thing: We understand that the accepted way of clearing land here is to burn it. When done by someone who is conscientious and knowledgeable, it’s an effective method to prime land for planting crops, like beans, landscaping, or building. When done right, a controlled burn lasts about 30 minutes. We know, because we’ve seen Fernando do it a couple of times around our property. 

What we can’t understand is how someone could be careless enough to not make sure the burn was fully under control before leaving the property. When the fire jumped the lane, we were damn lucky it didn’t jump to our side, especially as we have palm-thatched roofs on two palapas, or to Delia’s house. One spark and both properties could have been gone in no time. 

The logical question is why a call wasn’t made to the fire department. If we had been here, you can bet they would have been notified.  How they may have responded is quite another matter. Our understanding is that as burning land is a long accepted practice and as long as a fire is not damaging your personal property, the decision by the fire department may be to let it take care of itself. Now granted, the flames didn’t jump to our place, nor Delia’s. But it was very close. Too close for comfort.

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