A 43-year-old asthmatic mother living at Bird’s Eye Ridge, St Patrick’s, Christ Church says she feels as if she is slowly dying from more than six years of being subjected to an “uncaring” neighbour’s indiscriminate burning of refuse.
Trying to fight back the tears, an emotional Melissa Wiltshire on Tuesday expressed fears of dying at an early age.
“I am dying. I just turned 43…. My mother had a stroke in November…. I don’t want to die yet. I want to at least live to see my son cross the university stage. And nobody cares, nobody cares,” the distraught mother lamented in an interview with Barbados TODAY, adding that despite calls to the Barbados Fire Service (BFS) and the Barbados Police Service, she and other affected neighbours have not been able to get any relief.
“I feel like nobody cares. I am at my wit’s end, I do not know what else to do. I am a really bad asthmatic and this person burns almost every week. Suppose I catch COVID and I have to isolate at home, what will I do? It is okay to say close your windows, but by the time I close the windows, the smoke is already in here so it’s like I am suffocating in the house. The police never show up. I don’t know what the Fire Service does, so I will not blame them.”
The St Patrick’s resident is also worried about the “severe” impact the large amounts of medication she is forced to take, because of the constant smoke inhalation, is doing to her respiratory system and her well-being, generally.
“I cannot keep taking almost 20 tablets a day, steroids and a Turbuhaler and all sorts of things because somebody is inconsiderate,” Wiltshire said as her voice trembled, adding that she does not even get any prior warning from the neighbour who burns the stuff. “By the time my son and I finish closing up this house, we are already suffocating.”
On the question of relocating, the homeowner said it was not something she could afford to do at this time.
Before the interview with Barbados TODAY, Wiltshire had prepared a letter for publication on behalf of the other affected residents.
Part of that letter read: “Once again, it is out of desperation that we, the residents of Bird’s Eye Ridge, St Patrick’s, Christ Church, write this letter to you the people who indiscriminately burn stuff in the Packer’s, Christ Church area around the Woodbourne Bird Sanctuary and the pig farm…. Please…we are begging you…please stop smoking us out…. Please stop killing us slowly.”
“First, to the people who are burning, we would greatly appreciate it if you would stop burning stuff almost daily. Many of us suffer from chronic asthma, sinus, allergy issues and migraines,” the correspondence stated, adding that the residents had video recordings and photographs of smoke from the fires from as far back as a year ago.”
“As we write this letter, one of our residents (who resigned from her job because it was affecting her asthma) is at home recuperating from surgery and cannot cough. So, when you decided to burn your stuff on January 12, 2022 at 2:55 p.m., she had to close all of her windows and try to restrain any coughs that would have torn her stitches. This was very sad,” the unpublished letter further stated.
The residents added that despite calling the Barbados Police Service and the Barbados Fire Service on numerous occasions while fires were burning, no one came to their rescue.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Henderson Patrick said he was not aware of the specific case but promised to launch an investigation into the matter.
“We will look into that matter to see how it can be remedied with the assistance of the Fire Service,” he told Barbados TODAY.
He explained that measures were introduced about 18 months ago to strengthen the legislation dealing with indiscriminate burning which could land non-compliant persons before the law courts.
“We, about 18 months ago, started what is called burn permits. Anybody who wants to burn fire or whatever the case may be, they have to apply to the Fire Service for their burn permit,” Patrick said on Tuesday.
“And, in essence, people who light fires without having that permission [are] really doing something illegal…because you should make that request, an assessment is carried out and the Fire Service will determine whether they would be granted permission to burn that fire depending on the circumstances.
“If it is not granted and you still decide to do whatever you decide to do, then the matter can be addressed through the courts and there is a penalty that is associated with illegal burning; and that was something that was put in place about 18 months or so ago,” said the top-ranking fire official.
He added that, generally, if there is a fire that is causing a public nuisance, the Fire Service will extinguish it.
“In some cases where people had fires on their private properties and they were causing a nuisance to the public, we always suggest to the public that they can raise that as a legal matter and use the health legislation to see if you can get a remedy for it. But, like I said, about 18 months ago we strengthened that position,” Patrick reiterated. [email protected]