the PAPUA POST

Follow the Adventure: The Brazeau's Serving In Papua

Fire Fighting in Papua

Fire is a huge part of life in Papua. It is used for cooking, light, celebrations, getting rid of trash and clearing land. At sunset every day the sky is hazy from all of the fires that are going as people burn the days trash. There are a few dumpsters in town but once they are full the contents are just set on fire and the containers don't last very long as a result. I once saw a rat running down the street with its bottom on fire.

People often set fires to clear land because it is easier and faster than other methods. The problem with that method is that it often gets out of control as the dry weather results in very dry vegetation and almost daily there are massive fires burning within sight. 

Our school is on a hilltop, the sides of which are often set ablaze by locals clearing gardens. My first year in Papua there were several raging fires on or near the school campus. Now there is a fire station in Sentani however the truck always arrives very belatedly and often without any water. As a result of this the locals have grown quite adept at putting the fires out themselves. One of those giant fires that first year was very close to our apartment and had flames that were twenty feet in the air as the wind fueled the fire. Little kids from the hostels ran up and were laughing and screaming as the fire came within feet of them. Jeremy and I couldn't believe the kids reactions and quickly hustled them to a safer distance thought some ducked under our arms and ran back towards the blaze. 

By this time the fire had drawn a crowd and the maintenance men arrived and jumped the fence and, wrenching small trees from the hillside, began to beat the flames out with the dirt and root balls. It was the first time I had even seen anything like that and I thought it was ingenious, though I do realize it must be one of the first methods used to fight fire. It was very cool. Living overseas taught me a healthy respect for fire... and wind, rain, earthquakes, basically all the forces of the natural world.