Forest fire is already considered the greatest tragedy of the 21st century in Portugal

4 Jul, 2017Working on Fire Brazil

Painel Florestal invited Working on Fire Brazil to contribute to a very important debate. Wildfires are increasing throughout the globe and we would like to honour these firefighters who have faced the blazes. We would like to extend our condolences to the Portuguese civilians and firefighters during this time. “Stand firm and secure in the important and heroic work you do to combat wildfires,” said Daniel Santos, Working on Fire Brazil.

The forest fire that devastated the village of Pedrógão Grande, located in Leiria, central Portugal, not only left the world perplexed and moved by the deaths of 64 people to date, including a four-year-old child and four firefighters, Another 134 people injured, but set a dangerous precedent in protecting the environment by preserving native forests and productive commercial forests.

As the cause of the fire, according to the Portuguese government, was “natural” and motivated by a lightning from a dry thunderstorm, ie when rains evaporate before it even reaches the ground, a question has been on the air since the weekend: Is there any country with a strong forest-based industry capable of containing a major fire? The question should go unanswered for a long time, but it will spark heated debate on all continents and rekindle the cry of nongovernmental organisations about the factors, causes and consequences of the greenhouse effect.

There are at least 35 outbreaks of fires that are still out of control, 1,124 non-stop firefighters and 352 vehicles in action, plus ten aircraft – mostly ceded by neighboring countries such as Spain, France and Italy – in an attempt to contain fury of the flames, not to mention a scary combination of climatic factors: low humidity and temperature around 40 degrees. No one knows for sure when the fire will be contained and worst: how many people actually died or are still at risk of being struck by the flames that continue to burn and devastate Portugal.

Forest Panel Executive Director Robson Trevisan is following every detail of this Portuguese tragedy and creating a network of debates on social networks that, for the time being, has not had great effects beyond messages of faith and hope in the opinions of those who work or live together Forest sector. Astonished, Trevisan only says that the so-called natural causes asserted by the Portuguese government in the face of the country’s greatest forest fire silenced the expression of opinions of professionals working in the sector, in the certainty that once again the fury of nature evidenced – in an incisive and explicit way – Human impotence and weakness. However, it should lead to changes in environmental legislation and the creation of systems to combat or prevent, at least in order to alleviate this type of tragedy.

In the State of Mato Grosso do Sul, Reflore intensifies campaign against forest fires

The Mato Grosso do Sul Association of Producers and Consumers of Planted Forests (Reflore / MS) is conducting the fifth forest fire prevention campaign since April. The reason: from May to September is the period of the greatest spread of forest fires, commonly provided by a dry autumn and winter climate. In the State, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA), 90% of the fires are caused by human action, which can be accidental, intentional and even negligent.

The president of Reflore / MS, Moacir Reis, emphasises that the main goal of the campaign is to create – in the population – the culture of prevention. Reis emphasises that the campaign has been taking ‘body’ and that the level of awareness has risen annually. “People are understanding the importance of the forestry sector, which is fundamental for the environment and which also generates employment and income for an increasing population,” explains Reis. This year, Mato Grosso do Sul reached a million-hectare mark with planted forests – a number that should grow in the coming years since the forecast of the pulp industry is to increase and even double production volume, aiming mainly the Asian market.

For Moacir Reis, one of the ways to combat forest fires is through training of labour, as well as investment in machinery and equipment. He also says that some municipalities in the state have a reasonable fighting structure, but there are cases in which precariousness prevails. Reis did not want to indicate which municipalities are at a higher or lower level to combat forest fires but made it clear that there is an increasing effort by municipal governments and the state government to work on prevention and to promote, along with Reflore / MS, forest fires campaigns. In 2016, 6,967 fires were recorded in Mato Grosso do Sul, according to IBAMA data. This number is 31% higher than in 2015.

Perplexed by the level of fire devastation in Pedrógão Grande, Moacir Reis recalls that the Portuguese government has committed actions that, at the moment, mainly due to the deaths of dozens of people, the decline in investments in fire prevention will be highlighted when the authorities – different powers – begin to look for those responsible for the tragedy caused by lightning in an era of high temperature and very dry climate in this region of Portugal. “In a generic way, we know only that there has been a deactivation of firefighting bases there, but now it’s time to put out the fire and hope that there are no more people who have been killed in this tragedy,” he said.

Executive on Working on Fire in Brazil believes that investments in fire prevention will be on the agenda in companies and governments

Daniel Santos, executive of Working on Fire in Brazil, considers that the forest-based sector is facing a complex issue, even being one of the main sources of combat to this type of environmental tragedy, whose proportions are exponentiation by the number of lives harvested. Santos believes that this fire was probably triggered naturally by the season itself and also by the mountainous geography of the region, which makes it difficult to combat and potentialise fire.

He recalls that in an event promoted by the Federal University of Viçosa (UFV) in Minas Gerais, a Portuguese firefighter had said – in a lecture – that 80% of forest fires recorded in Europe come from Portugal at this time of year, continent. “The hot and dry climate in a mountainous region causes the fire to spread very quickly, and if the affected region were flat, the fire would also spread, but at a slower speed and control would be less difficult. Of small territory, the urban-forest interface is sharper, that is, the chances of loss of human life are greater “, he analyses.

The executive of the Working on Fire recalls that recently other countries recorded large forest fires, such as Chile, the United States and Canada. For Daniel Santos, the big question is how to mobilise a large number of firefighters, along with the machines and equipment needed for this type of action. Even so, he reinforces that the number of occurrences of forest fires is increasing, although today’s fighting techniques are effective, however, they are now being sought – by governments and large corporations – after striking events.

Santos recalls that two years before the Chilean forest fire in January of this year, an Australian expert had warned. Australia and South Africa are countries with strengthened forest industries that have evolved in fire-fighting techniques – with the training of manpower, using effective chemical materials, as well as equipment and machinery, including the use of aircraft. In South Africa, for example, the government has made a sort of ‘forest family grant’ that has resulted in the creation of a large army of brigadiers and civilian firefighters for this type of firefighting. Today, South Africa has about six thousand brigadistas and Chile, after the tragedy, already has more than 1,5 thousand.

According to Daniel Santos, there are controlled burning techniques in periods when the risk of forest fire is lower. This type of strategy reduces the combustible material of forests and can minimise the risk of large-scale forest fires. “In Brazil, the Chico Mendes Institute for the Conservation of Biodiversity (Brazil), started this work, using controlled burning techniques in the soil, but there are even more efficient aerial means”, emphasises Santos.

For the executive of Working on Fire in Brazil, there was a lack of stronger preventive action in Portugal. In the case of Brazil, Daniel Santos assesses the risk of a large forest fire, although it is much smaller compared to other countries with a strong forest industry. “What is at stake is the issue of global warming.” This is not a fuss, it is a fact. Big companies in the forestry sector have the means to detect efficient fires, but how to fight – if it happens – is still unknown, what is true that there are companies specialised in this type of firefighting, in this case, forestry” says Santos.

The executive also notes that the reality of Brazil is better and will improve with the great investments in the mechanisation of forestry because those who do the planting are people trained in the fight against forest fires. Another form of prevention adopted in Brazil is the research with new clones stronger tolerance to high temperatures and low rainfall indexes. However, Daniel Santos emphasises that governments need to ‘open their eyes’ to native forests and make use of efficient forest fire-fighting techniques, and need to review legislation on the use of successfully used chemical compounds around the world, but with restrictions and prohibitions in Brazil for reasons devoid of rational logic.

Read the article on Painel Florestal here (Portuguese).


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