Smoke from burning West Coast rice fields disrupts traffic

Thick smoke blanketed Crane and Harlem, West Coast Demerara on Thursday morning after rice farmers lit fires in their fields, resulting in a disruption of traffic for over one hour, while firefighters battled to put out the fires.

The burning of the rice straw and stubble that remain in the fields after harvest is one of the most efficient, effective, cheap and therefore common methods used in developing countries to allow for quick preparation for the new crop. It is mostly outlawed in developed countries because of the pollution it causes.

Motorists who were disrupted by the smoke from the rice fields. (Photo courtesy of Sahadeo Bates)
Motorists who were disrupted by the smoke from the rice fields. (Photo courtesy of Sahadeo Bates)

Even with their windows up and air-conditioning units working, the drivers and occupants of vehicles could not escape inhaling the smoke. “We couldn’t see anything from two feet away. The smoke was so thick nobody could have passed through,” one driver said.

Stabroek News was told that residents were also forced to flee their homes because of the stifling smoke. Yesterday, there was black ash in many homes and everything smelt of smoke.

Motorists complained that for some time yesterday morning smoke from the fields was still billowing onto the roadway. The situation was not as bad though.

Sahadeo Bates, a motorist who got caught in the smoke, told this newspaper, that some drivers diverted through a deplorable road that had been built in the area to provide access to rice farmers. Other drivers who did not know the road chose to wait until the smoke cleared up to continue their journey.

Bates said that while it is a normal procedure for the farmers to burn their fields before they plough, “The bad thing is that the dry weather caused the fires to get out of control and they could not go close to it or access water to put it out. The heat was terrible. The same thing happened in Essequibo.”

He said that the farmers should have put systems in place to prevent that ugly situation from occurring.

Meanwhile, a woman told Stabroek News that she was in a minibus when she passed the area around 3 pm on Monday and there was “smoke all over.”

It was apparently not as thick as Thursday though. She said the minibus windows were closed up and the driver drove cautiously through the smoke.

The passengers were afraid but they were still glad the driver was able to pass rather than waiting until the smoke eased up.

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