‘3 to 4 wildfires a day occurring on Rota’

DFEMS deploys 3 firefighters from Saipan to assist Rota firefighters

Three to four wild land grass fires are occurring on Rota a day, damaging more than 20 percent of the island’s land mass area, according to the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services yesterday.

DFEMS spokesman Derek Gersonde said over the past several months they responded to numerous wild land grass fires across the CNMI that damaged several acres of land.

For Rota, Gersonde said in cooperation with the island’s mayor, Efrain Atalig, DFEMS has deployed three firefighters from the CNMI Type II hand crew strike team stationed on Saipan to assist Rota DFEMS in fighting and mitigating the fires.

The deployed firefighters are Joseph Rodriguez, Abraham Quitugua, and Ralph Magofna.

“The deployment is to augment the short number of firefighters on Rota in anticipation of more wild land grass fires,” he said.

Rota DFEMS currently has five firefighters working around the clock. By August this year, an additional six firefighters from the Fire Academy are anticipated to be assigned on the island.

The six cadets are now undergoing Fire Academy training being held at the Fire Training Station in Capital Hill on Saipan.

Gersonde said these fire cadets have already been trained and are currently certified as wild land firefighters for the Type II Hand Crew.

Gersonde said the DFEMS Wild Land Type II firefighters from Saipan will be on a rotating deployment schedule every two weeks.

Gersonde said the deployed firefighters are expected to remain on Rota until the grass fires are no longer a threat to the residences.

DFEMS yesterday also issued tips that will prevent fire damage or total destruction to homes or other structures in the event that a wild land fire burns through the neighborhood.

“Being firewise does not mean your lawn has to be barren or you have to sacrifice the plants you love, and it can be done a little or no cost,” Gersonde said.

Gersonde said the most vital tasks to keep home safe from fire hazards are the following:

Keep your trees pruned from the base to 6 feet above the ground.

Remove clutter.

Keep your lawn mowed.

Store wood or coconut husks no less than 15 feet from the house.

For residences surrounded by sakati (saw grass), keep a clearance of 50 feet from your house and other structures, or at least to your property line.

Gersonde said the goal is to keep the fire small enough so it will die out or can be extinguished easily.

“One thing that you must consider is the fire-feeding material that surrounds your structures such as dead grass, branches, or places where leaves may gather,” Gersonde.

The DFEMS spokesman said many individuals believe a fire moves through the neighborhood in a wave or tsunami approach, but in fact many homes catch fire due to the ember storm or firebrands that can be found ahead of the flame front.

“Embers may find their way into your home through small holes, vents, or an open window while you’re away,” he said.

“When these embers eventually land on your home or property, it is important that the surface they land on has a minimal chance of igniting.”

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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