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Forest ranger in Lady Chancellor fire dies

Published: 
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, centre, with injured woodsman Kemarlee Carrington, right, and Conservator of Forests John Radgman, at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital yesterday morning. PHOTOS COURTESY: Senator Clarence Rambharat's Facebook page. 

Senior forester II, Keith Campbell was a well-respected, resourceful and humble man who will be missed dearly by his colleagues in the Forestry Division.

Campbell 56, succumbed to injuries he sustained during a forest fire on Friday at Lady Chancellor Hill, St Ann’s.

Co-worker Kishan Ramcharan, a Forester I, who worked with Campbell in the division since 2003, described the event as “a complete horror.”

He said Campbell remained in the raging fire for close to 30 minutes as he and other workers looked on in tears, unable to help.

Ramcharan said, “I never experienced anything so devastating and terrifying in my life.

“This is my third year of fighting fires on the Northern Range.

“This is something I will not want anybody to witness.”

Five of them—Campbell, woodsmen Jamal Bain, Kemarlee Carrington, Kenya Duprey and Ramcharan responded to the call.

Forester I, Darren Satram, who was not part of the team, rushed from another fire to offer assistance and received minor injuries. He was stabilised and released from hospital on Friday. 

Up to yesterday, Bain remained hospitalised after suffering severe burns on his stomach and upper leg; while Carrington, 24, was treated for smoke inhalation and burns to his feet. He is expected to be released soon.

Forestry worker: 

People are careless, reckless

An upset Ramcharan, who works at the North West Forestry Division, said it was sad to know that they put out so much effort and risked their lives, yet still people were so lackadaisical, careless and reckless.

He said while they did not know for certain how the fire started, there was rumour that the fire started in “a backyard burning of someone’s rubbish.”

“But you always need proof and that’s why everyone gets away. The fines need to increase from $1,500 to something really drastic because apart from surrounding buildings, this also damages the eco-system.”

He said they fight forest fires and not bush fires. Forest fires are based on elevation with hills and forests, while bush fires were on cane land or flat lands in low-lyings areas. 

He said Chancellor Hill was a ridge that is cut within a mountain, making the fire a forest fire. 

‘Get out!, Get out!’

Yesterday, he remembered Campbell as being a hardworker and recounted Friday’s events which led to his death and the injuries of his colleagues.

Ramcharan said Campbell was well-experienced in fighting fires and had a wealth of knowledge of fires habits and how fires operated in specific types of terrains. 

He said, Keith was more or less on supervision duties but “everyone lends a helping hand in trying to suppress fires.” They arrived on the scene around 1 pm and conducted a fire assessment but decided it was best to wait on the Fire Service.

On realising the fire had somewhat cooled down, they ventured in “since nothing was burning as much.”

It was Campbell who went in first, equipped with full safety gear and a backpack water pump.

Ramcharan said he then went in with his fire rake which Campbell advised him to use. Campbell was about 100 metres away and in his sight.

Bain was also inside the forest. But as fate would have it, the winds intensified and it was suddenly “a furnace of fire blazing.”

Ramcharan said, “From a distance, the fire was raging from the valley and our drivers on the hills started screaming, get out! get out!”

He used the fire rake to pull himself out of the precipice and when he got to the top, he saw Bain badly burnt and screamed out for Campbell who was trapped.

Satram then arrived on the scene and was joined by Carrington and Duprey who attempted to head down and await rescue from the Fire Service and ambulance who arrived ten minutes later.

Ramcharan said, “I was in a state of shock and disbelief. When they finally got to Campbell and I saw him, he was moving his head just a bit.”

He said Campbell was a dynamic human being with a range of skills and one of the best officers he had worked with. 

Family mum

When the Sunday Guardian visited Campbell’s family home at #301 Serbian Avenue, Pine Haven Gardens, D’Abadie yesterday, a male relative would only say, “The family is declining all opportunities to speak with anyone and the media. 

“Please talk to the ministry.”

When asked which ministry, the young man, looked out the burglar-proofing, with his head framed by a curtain, and repeated, “Please speak with the ministry.”

Earlier in the day, staff at the Belgrove’s Funeral Chapel, Tacarigua, confirmed that members of the Campbell family had been there, but had left after finalising funeral arrangements for their loved ones.

The Campbell family was dealt a double blow as Keith’s mother died on Friday after a battle with cancer. 

After he learnt of the news on Friday, he put his work in front and ventured into the blaze. 

Forest Division’s fire 

response activity restricted

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat, via his Facebook page said the ministry will offer all the necessary assistance to the injured workers.

He was with Campbell’s wife and other relatives when he died. 

He said instructions were given to the Conservator of Forests to restrict the Forestry Division’s fire response activities to fire watch only, until the ministry fully understood the circumstances of Friday’s events and the lessons learnt. 

Reminders to the public

• Be responsible

• Properly dispose cigarette butts

• Fire trace the area if you live close to the foothills or on mountains

• Burning without a permit is an offence which carries a penalty of $1,500 and six months imprisonment

• Dec 1-June 30 is designated fire season and during this period a fire permit is required for the use of any outdoor fire

• Call the Fire Prevention Unit, Forestry Division at 225-3846/2253705 to report forest fires.

(with reporting by 

Valdeen Shears-Neptune)