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Devonshire blaze quelled by firefighters

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Firefighters thanked the public for their help after a long day battling a major fire that swept across Devonshire Marsh, threatening businesses and homes.

Lieutenant Russann Francis of the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service reported at 3.45pm that major operations were nearing conclusion.

All operational staff were embodied for the job, which she said “could have gotten much worse without the assistance of the public”.

This morning Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security, visited the site, thanking the BFRS and the public who helped.

“Earlier this morning, I visited the scene of Devonshire Marsh to get an assessment of the damage,” Mr Caines said.

“I received a thorough briefing from Acting Fire Chief Dana Lovell. This was a major fire, and we are grateful there wasn't any serious injury or significant loss of property. I wish to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to the members of the BFRS for not only battling the marsh fire, but also for safeguarding and protecting the affected residents in the surrounding area. The courage and bravery of BFRS officer cannot be understated and they continue to do us proud.

“I also wish to thank members of the public for their assistance yesterday to the BFRS. Their acts of kindness and generosity are impressive examples of what unites and strengthens our community.”

The fire service continues to monitor the site.

The brush fire, which broke out at about 8.20am yesterday, scorched a swathe of the marsh, burnt perilously close to houses and businesses, and blanketed the surrounding neighbourhoods in acrid smoke.

Lt Francis said first reports had indicated a fire near the Island Construction garage yard.

“We quickly responded by dividing resources to make a three-point attack which helped to restrict further spread of the blaze to any exposures. The fire was eventually brought under control at approximately 3pm with the roads open to traffic; however, crews will remain in the area during the daylight hours for the purpose of wetting down hotspots and areas of concern to prevent the potential of re-ignition.”

Traffic diversions caused major congestion in parts of Devonshire and into Smith's, but roads were expected to open by around 4.15pm.

The news came after anxious business owners joined firefighters in a scramble to keep persistent flames from spreading into the Marsh Lane industrial park in Devonshire.

Firefighters also battled to keep the windblown fires from spreading onto private properties, with evacuations recommended in some neighbourhoods.

Despite extensive efforts, the stubborn blaze fanned by winds swept across Devonshire Marsh this morning

A gallery of pictures can be viewed here.

Small pockets of fire were able to jump Middle Road, but were swiftly put out.

As of 1pm a business owner on Marsh Lane, asking not to be named, reported: “Looks good. The fire service have controlled the eastern and southern movement but they keep running out of water while waiting for refill trucks.

“The fire keeps flaring up but going north and east.”

By that time, the bulk of the effort had shifted to Vesey Street, according to Lt Francis.

Attacking the blaze took a substantial and concerted effort, with water truckers topping up supplies.

Some residents were urged to evacuate as dense smoke choked the neighbourhoods around Vesey Street and Upland Street.

One couple said at 1.30pm that they “didn't want to take any chances” and were leaving — even though the fire looked less severe come the afternoon.

A police spokesman said the evacuations were being suggested “out of an abundance of caution”. Officers were going door-to-door to advise residents.

As of 11am, firefighters were battling the flames at the verge of the Bermuda Stripping industrial yard off Middle Road.

Business owner Anthony Madeiros said it had been a narrow escape.

“We just rushed in with fork lifts and moved the pallets and containers of wood,” Mr Madeiros said.

“If it gets to the shipping container with the paint, it's game over.”

Businesses were locked up this morning and proprietors hosed down vegetation. Firefighters took to the tops of buildings to hose down the blaze just outside the estate.

One said: “This is going to burn all day. The only good thing I can say is that it happened now, when it's still green and we've had all that rain.

“If it was summer, this whole place would have lit up.”

Traffic was heavily congested throughout the area, and motorists were advised to give that part of Devonshire a wide berth.

Lt Francis said the flames had spread aggressively, with firefighters “constantly extinguishing pockets”.

“We are protecting the nearby businesses while still attacking the fires,” she added.

The brush fires broke out at the western end of the marsh near Island Construction.

As of 10am, the fire was nearing the road and had encroached onto a property, with embers catching treetops and patches of brush.

Firefighters told The Royal Gazette that they expected to contain it, but winds were complicating the task.

Flames were billowing within 50ft of a home off Middle Road, with teams of firefighters intent on keeping it from advancing.

Small fires spread to nearby palmetto trees and patches of cane.

That area of fire was subdued, but the conflagration continued eastward towards Marsh Lane.

More and more units joined the effort this morning, with teams of firefighters spreading into surrounding areas to keep the blaze from spreading.

A thick pall of smoke and falling ash has blown south of the fire, and traffic was diverted over a wide area from Barker's Hill past Brighton Hill.

The dense smoke presented a health and traffic hazard, and a fire service spokeswoman urged the public to use caution in the area.

Meanwhile, police asked for the public to keep well away from the area until the fire was fully under control.

A wall of fire fans across Devonshire Marsh (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Firefighters push back the blaze from a residence off Middle Road (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
The scene by Brighton Hill an hour after the blaze was reported (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

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Published March 17, 2018 at 9:56 am (Updated March 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm)

Devonshire blaze quelled by firefighters

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