Monday, July 11, 2005

Firemen in hazardous battle against Rock blaze

Firemen battled for hours under tough conditions to control a blaze that threatened to spread across a large swathe of the lower slopes of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve on Saturday evening.

The fire appears to have started at around 5.30pm in the area immediately above the Mount Alvernia home for the elderly, close to the main road leading up the Rock.

The City Fire Brigade reacted swiftly to the alert but the task of fighting the fire was an arduous one because of the steep slopes covered in thick, tinder dry undergrowth, loose soil and rocks.

The firemen were labouring in the evening heat clad in heavy protective suits that further complicated their work and made their job even more arduous.

Every so often, tired men emerged from the brush to strip down, drink some water and cool off before suiting up again and diving straight back in.

“It’s pretty hard in there,” said one man during a short break. “We’re dragging the hoses up loose rocks and pushing through thorny vines that just cling to you.”

One fireman collapsed with exhaustion and had to be treated on the scene by an ambulance crew, who then whisked him away on a stretcher. Other firemen who were not on duty that evening were recalled to help tackle the blaze.

The fire was low in the undergrowth most of the time, creating a pall of smoke that crept through the trees and occasionally rose in thick columns into the sky. Every so often trees could be seen bursting into flames as the fire, fanned by an easterly breeze, repeatedly flared up.

As teams of firemen worked their way up the slopes, others used hoses from the cliff above to drench the area in an effort to keep the blaze down.

Officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police sealed off access to the Upper Rock, while staff from AquaGib worked with the City Fire Brigade to ensure a constant supply of water to the area in question.

A vehicle from the Defence Fire Service was also deployed to help pump water up the slopes.

Also on the scene was Ernest Britto, Minister for Health, who had spotted the smoke from town and rushed to the area concerned that Mount Alvernia might have to be evacuated.

The rapid and effective emergency response, however, meant that none of the houses in the area were affected.

By early evening on Saturday the fire was under control, though firemen were still on site at midday on Sunday to make sure that it did not start up again.

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