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Disaster averted by quick-thinking businessmen

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Early warning: the beginning of a sweeping blaze that tore across Devonshire Marsh on Saturday (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Business owners were quick to pitch in as fire swept across Devonshire Marsh on Saturday, looming precariously close to warehouses and shops.

Winds fanned flames across the reserve and a barrage of embers and sparks kept the fire going despite firefighting efforts on several fronts.

Alarm bells went off early for David Frith, whose Middle Road home borders the marsh by Brighton Hill.

The personal trainer was one of the first to evacuate his home as flames threatened to engulf the property.

Mr Frith said he heard “nothing” when he drove his wife to the airport at about 7.30am, then headed to work.

By 9am he learnt that flames were outside his house.

“My neighbour was telling me play by play; it was getting worse and worse.”

Mr Frith rushed home and scrambled to get “as much valuables as I could out of the house” — but his cat took fright and bolted.

Roadside palmettos burst into flames and firefighters rushed to put out smouldering patches where the fire jumped Middle Road.

The fire continued eastward towards Bermuda Stripping & Refinishing where it became a race against time to stop it igniting a yard full of wood and flammable materials.

Business owner Anthony Madeiros, who joined his staff in the fight, said it had been a narrow escape.

“We just rushed in with forklifts 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.”

Outside Noah’s Ark pet and feed store, staff trained hoses on to vegetation as flames neared the verge of the business park.

The doors were locked and firefighters went up to the upper levels and trained their hoses on to the blaze.

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.”

Fires are a common occurrence at the marsh, where forest long ago gave way to sawgrass, fern and cow cane.

According to former conservation officer David Wingate, the “great marsh fire of 1914” was the turning point, converting it to “a fire climax habitat” accustomed to burns.

The Bermuda Audubon Society owns part of the reserve, and society president Andrew Dobson said any fire there was cause for concern.

“Devonshire Marsh is a hugely valuable wetland area for the ecosystem services provided,” he said.

“The society has four nature reserves in Devonshire Marsh and the fire burnt much vegetation in two of them ­— Freer Cox and Winifred Gibbons nature reserves.”

Bermuda’s highly limited wetlands are “vital” to the island, Mr Dobson said, with only about 100 acres of peat marsh left.

“The marsh will take time to recover from the fire and recolonisation by wildlife.”

Devonshire Marsh Fire (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Devonshire Marsh Fire (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Devonshire Marsh Fire (Photograph by Akil Simmons)