Four forestry officers were trapped and burnt while trying to extinguish a bush fire at Lady Chancellor Hill, St Ann’s, yesterday.
Three of them were treated for their injuries, while one of their colleagues remained in a critical condition at the Intensive Care Unit of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital suffering from third degree burns. According to reports, shortly after midday, eight officers from the Forestry Division responded to a bush fire off Lady Chancellor Road in St Ann’s.
The officers, Keith Campbell, Darren Satram, Jamal Bain, Kemarle Carrington, Kishan Ramcharan and three others, went into the valley to attempt to douse the flames as they awaited assistance from fire officers. Campbell, the first to approach the area, was engulfed in flames as strong winds suddenly changed the course of the fire, the officers said.
Satram, Bain and Carrington attempted to run away but were burned as the fire raced behind them. In an interview at the hospital yesterday, Ramcharan, one of the officers who managed to escape unhurt, recounted the incident. “It was unpredictable. We assessed the situation and say let us go and pat it down while we wait on the fire officers but that was a big mistake,” Ramcharan said.
He said he was lucky to escape injury as he chose to run in another direction away from the fire. The officer said as they ran in different directions, they saw when Campbell threw himself to the ground as trained. “I just ran as fast as I could and used my rake to crawl up the cliff back to where we start from. We were helpless. All we could do was watch as the fire surrounded him,” he said.
Ramcharan said he and his co-workers believed that Campbell would not survive the fire and were shocked when they saw him moving as fire officers who arrived on the scene began extinguishing the flames around him. “We thought he was gone for sure but then we see him moving his hands,” he said.
Ramcharan and his colleagues who spoke briefly in an interview, believe that Campbell, the most experienced in fire suppression in their team, was able to escape possible death by throwing himself on the ground as soon as the fire spread around him.
While he sustained serious burns to more than 70 per cent of his body, the officers also suggested that Campbell’s respirator and water-filled backpack protected him to some degree.
Unlike fire officers, the forestry workers do not have protective clothing. Ramcharan and the other officers, some of whom asked to remain unidentified, said that they have dealt with more than 200 forest fires in North Trinidad alone for the year.
“Almost 100 per cent of the fires we deal with are started by people. We do a lot of public awareness programmes but people do not seem to listen,” he said. Campbell and the other injured officers were visited by their families and Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat, last night.