Brush Fire

We were relaxing in the house the other night when we saw a truck come down our dead end street with bright flashing blue lights. It left, went up the street, came back down our street, and then pulled into the empty lot on the other side of our street. By now I was very curious and went out to see what was going on.


It was firemen, and they were starting to strap water tanks on their backs. It wasn’t until they pointed out the fire in the woods that I realized what was going on. Fortunately for us, the wind was blowing the smoke away from us so we hadn’t smelled anything and we had the TV on, so we didn’t hear anything either.


Standing in our driveway looking across the street

When the firemen are called for a brush fire, they go out with their portable water tanks and spray the perimeter in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading into someone’s property. I think they stayed for less than an hour and though the fire didn’t seem to come closer to the houses, it was definitely still burning in the woods.


My neighbor’s house across the street

I spent the next couple hours on my terrace. The fire would flare up and start popping and crackling, and then it would quiet down again. By 1 AM I figured I should get some sleep. The fire wasn’t coming closer or doing anything different so I figure everything would be ok.


When I got up the next morning the fire was still burning and had come up to my neighbors back yards. These plantain trees are almost to their property line and you can see the fire shouldering just a few feet behind them.


My neighbor said they were out there at 3 AM with the water hose wetting the perimeter, and sweeping and raking up anything that would burn between the woods and their property. They said these woods tend to burn every year and it is surprising that they haven’t for the last couple summers.

At first I was very freaked out by the brush fires that happen everywhere in the dry season. People do try to protect their yards and property but in general no one gets very excited. If it’s a field or woods without homes, the fire is allowed to just burn itself out. But, homes are made of cement with metal roofs so they aren’t going to burn. And, if an area burns every year or two, there won’t be enough thick undergrowth to fuel a big, dangerous fire.


You can tell its summer in Panama by the smoke in the air. I can smell it today coming from the east. If a fire is close and the wind is in the right direction, you also get a sprinkling of ashes on everything.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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9 Responses to Brush Fire

  1. oldcameraman says:

    The big tragedy in all this is that MOST of these fires are deliberately set. A Panamanian friend of ours told us yesterday that people are just too lazy to sweep or rake up the leaves.Instead, they just throw a match on the dead leaves and underbrush. The bomberos are very worried now because of the lack of rainfall and water in the rivers now. Here in Coclé, there are 100s of fires everyday. Polluting the environment and damaging the plants. Additionally, people usually throw their garbage including plastics into these fires. Due to the extended drought, much of this area is starting to look like a burned out war zone. Panamanians are not unique in this. Canadians and Americans do it too although the penalties are more severe in those countries if those pyromaniacs are identified. Man ruining the earth. Sigh….


    • I see people here burning yard trash, but thankfully not much plastic and other stuff. I am surprised though that they burn in dry times. My neighbors thought this one might have come from careless smoking, though there are very few who smoke around here. Who knows, though I can certainly see trash fires getting away from people.
      You all are having a terrible time with drought from what I hear. I’m so sorry, and unfortunately it will probably be months before there is any relief.


  2. lifesgoodpanama says:

    The post above is true and they also do what they call “controlled fires” (I use the term loosely) to burn off the brush in open fields.I agree that it is a major pollutant and dangerous but it is the norm here. Also they burn the ditches and roadside which can be pretty hairy if you have some
    serious smoke across the road. I have driven back to Boquete from David and part fo the way was completely blinded by the smoke. In our old house they would burn the field behind us every year. Lots of sleepless nights. Trenches and keeping your perimeter clean and clear of brush is a help. Many structures aren’t concrete and this can be dangerous for those families. That said, controlled burns are used in other places. But where do all the critters go?


    • I haven’t seen much burning of fields around here, at least not on purpose, but I have seen people burning trash, often in the ditch by the road so I can see how those would easily catch on fire. This has definitely made me more conscious of keeping our property cleaner. This is the closest a fire has come to our house.


  3. I remember when we lived in Kansas they would also burn fields. Here though i don’t think they are as careful about wind and weather conditions before they decide to burn. Since we have woods along side our house, this sure has made me think more about keeping things cleaned up.
    No worries, i can remove duplicate posts.


  4. camilo quelquejeu says:

    The main reason for burning, is to clear the land and kill most of the weeds and insects, before planting a new crop when it starts raining. It is not the best way, but it is the way it is done.


    • I haven’t see that in this area. They burn the sugar cane before harvesting it, but otherwise I think they are more likely to plough things under. Around here it’s mostly sugar cane, rice, some beans, and a lot of cattle.


  5. oldcameraman says:

    Camilo quelquejeu; Not sure where you got this info from, but it is emphatically NOT true for the vast majority of fires here in Coclé and Panama Oueste. I have asked numerous people including farmers and they do NOT set the fires for that purpose. Most are not even set in fields! I think the reason you have referred to is someone’s rationalization, not the real reason. The Police, Bomberos and Sinaproc are now issuing continuous warnings on twitter and other media advising people that it is illegal and that they are creating serious life threatening fires as well as environmental damage.


    • Maybe things are done differently in different areas. I haven’t seen them burning fields here, but I sure remember a lot of that when I lived in Kansas. Your area for sure with everything so dry, they need to do all they can to stop everything from burning!


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