A Fire in Matanzas, Cuba Wipes Out 11,300 Tobacco Drying Sheds

The residents themselves warned of the fire in the tobacco sheds. (Yosier Argüeso)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2023 — More than 11,300 drying sheds of recently harvested tobacco burned in a fire on Wednesday night in Jovellanos, Matanzas. The official press confirmed the news, advanced by a user on social networks, which shattered the calm of the neighbors of District 5 of the San Carlos People’s Council.

According to the author of the information, Yosier Argüeso Miranda, an official of the Gelma group who is dedicated to agricultural logistics and is a resident of the area, it was the neighbors of the drying sheds, who belong to the Matanzas Tobacco Collection and Benefit Company, who realized that they were burning around 10:00 at night.

Rolando Tirse Fernández, of the Fire Department, explained that coordination with the firefighting forces of the neighboring municipalities allowed the fire to be controlled relatively quickly. Together, the main tasks focused on cooling down the premises and the surrounding structures to prevent a spread, according to the expert.

They could not, however, prevent up to 100 homes from being affected by the incident. They lost power due to the overheating of the network and the damage to the power lines that the Unión Eléctrica de Cuba is working to solve.

With regard to the events, several things remain unclear, such as the number of tobacco sheds that burned and how the fire could have started. Although the damage is only preliminary, the loss of such a number of drying sheds, from which between 2,300 and 2,800 cigars could be produced, has had a great impact on the local company.

The national panorama with respect to the tobacco harvest is also bleak, after the disaster caused in September 2022 by the passage of Hurricane Ian, which was particularly damaging for Pinar del Río, the island’s leading province in the sector, from which about 65% of the leaf comes.

The damages were described as “the largest in history” for Cuban tobacco by the provincial Agriculture delegate, Víctor Fidel Hernández, who found 90% of the drying sheds affected by the hurricane, out of a total of 12,000. In addition, “about 11,000 tons of tobacco” that were already in the dryers got wet, and had to undergo a new process or be discarded.

Much of that leaf, about 6,000 tons, was taken to other provinces to continue the process, including Matanzas, Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara and Cienfuegos.

At the end of the year, the Government estimated that some 12,544 tons of the damaged leaves were recovered, and more than 1,640 hectares were planted, only 26% of the 6,300 planned for a cycle that closed in January.

In November 2022, a fire also swept through the cargo of a train that transported Pinar del Río leaf, although the amount of tobacco lost in the event was not offered to the public.

This product is one of the most profitable for the Cuban Government, which last year pocketed 545 million dollars, thanks to the exports of Habanos S.A. Only one year before, the earnings were 568 million dollars (with these figures affected by the change in the value of the dollar).

At the recent Cigar Festival, February 27 to March 4, the Government raised the “record figure” of 11,220,000 euros for the auction of six humidors, one of them signed by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, which sold for 4,200,000 euros.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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