Trinidad and Tobago’s Met Office has forecasted a hot and harsh dry season for 2019. Below average rainfall is expected which will lead to much drier than usual conditions. With temperatures predicted to be warmer than average, several hot spells are probable when temperatures reach or exceed 34oC on consecutive days. When combined, drier and hotter conditions can lead to drought-like conditions, increasing the chance for bush, grass, forest and landfill fires.


Year# Bush Fires
Source: Forestry Division

Similar conditions in 2016 lead to several deaths and destruction of residential and commercial properties. Notably, a bush fire along the Eastern Main Road spread to stacks of wooden pallets and plastic bottle cases and then to a warehouse and office building destroying both. Fire officers battled to contain the blaze which threatened to spread to the adjacent community centre and surrounding businesses.

A fireman douses the embers after a bush fire destroyed a warehouse used by Carib Brewery, Mt Lambert in 2016. PHOTO: SHIRLEY BAHADUR

According to reports at the time, the damage could have been mitigated if inflammable material which fueled the fire had been stored away from the bushes and the building and if the business had maintained a fire trace between the neighbouring property.

The Finance Act 2018 raises the penalty fine under the Agricultural Fires Act for starting outdoor fires without a permit from $1,500 to $20,000. A permit is required to light outdoor fires between December 1 to until June 30 every year. Property owners can obtain a permit to start an outdoor fire from the nearest fire station.

Good Housekeeping for Businesses

‘Housekeeping’ in fire safety terms, describes practices used to avoid the dangerous build-up of combustible materials in or about the premises. It also describes the accessibility of fire exits and fire fighting equipment which have the potential to be obstructed by stored goods (combustible or otherwise). Good housekeeping practices reduce the likelihood of ignition and the impact of fire by controlling the presence of fuels, obstructions and sources of ignition.

On the other hand, poor housekeeping is reflected in piles of empty pallets, combustible wood shavings, wrapping materials, cardboard boxes, piles of redundant paper or files, or exits blocked by stored or discarded materials.

Some good housekeeping (hazard reduction) tips to reduce the likelihood and impact of fire include:

⦁ Install and maintain smoke detectors
⦁ Install and maintain sprinklers where appropriate
⦁ Establish appropriate smoking areas and post “No Smoking” signs in all other areas of the facility.
⦁ Secure metal lids to rubbish containers at all times when not in use
⦁ Provide non-combustible receptacles with metal lids for combustible waste.
⦁ Empty waste containers daily
⦁ Store trash dumpsters more than 10 ft (3m) of combustible walls, openings, or combustible roof eaves lines
⦁ Remove packaging waste, such as shredded paper and plastic, from the work area daily
⦁ Position combustible material and rubbish containers clear of buildings
⦁ Keep gutters clear of leaves and debris
⦁ Review the location of gas cylinders and lines
⦁ Make sure any new or existing water tanks can easily be used for fire fighting
⦁ Properly store equipment after use.
⦁ Brief staff to report all bush fires in neighbouring properties

⦁ Obtain a ‘hot weld’ permit if required for all welding activities.
⦁ Monitor all welding on site, ensure the location is free of combustible materials if possible. If the work cannot be moved, clear flammable materials and rubbish from the area for about a 35 ft/11 metre radius. If these precautions are not feasible, shield or cover such materials with fire resistive materials to protect them for combustion.
⦁ Maintain one or more fire watch during welding and have a charged fire extinguisher readily available.
⦁ Check the surrounding 30 minutes to 1 hour after stopping work for the day to make sure no smoldering materials exist. Most welding fires break out long after the operation has ceased, as they are caused by unnoticed sparks which travel long distances before lodging in combustible materials.


Smoke from landfill fires blanketed Port of Spain during the 2014 to 2016 dry seasons, impacting employees with asthma and other respiratory ailments. If a similar situation occurs this year:
⦁ remind employees to be vigilant about taking medications as prescribed, and keep them on hand
⦁ advise travelling officers without airconditioning to keep windows down to prevent trapping smoke inside. Persons with airconditioning should circulate internal air until clear of the smoke cloud.
⦁ For those particularly affected by smoke, SWMCOL recommends face masks as those with “particulate respirators” such as those with the words “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “N100” printed on it, Or a “P100” mask.  Choose a mask that has two straps that go around your head rather than a mask with only one strap or with straps that just hook over the ears.  The mask should will fit over the nose and under the chin. It should seal tightly to the face.

SWMCOL does not recommend bandanas (wet or dry), paper or surgical masks, or tissue held over the mouth and nose.

Good Housekeeping for Homeowners

With water restrictions in effect, homeowners should continue to maintain a sufficient lawn height while keeping a close eye on neighbouring property and bamboo stands. If necessary, call the regional corporation for assistance with adjoining overgrown lots.

Well trained staff and active monitoring are vital to housekeeping practices that keep homes and businesses safe.

Fire insurance is generally covered in a homeowner’s policy. To ensure you receive an attractive rate for insuring a commercial building, contact us to explore conducting a Loss Control/Risk Assessment Survey at your premises.