Online training helps firefighting in Brazilian biomes

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Forest Service (USFS) suspended all its face-to-face training activities in 2020. In September the USFS launched, in partnership with USAID/Brazil, a cycle of online training programs on firefighting in Brazilian biomes, mainly focused on Amazon and Pantanal fires. These two regions are the most affected by fires this year, according to satellite images monitored by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). 

In total, the USFS is offering five different training courses to firefighters and other professionals working in the region, in coordination with the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) and other partners. This initiative is funded by USAID - Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA). 

The course topics include the application of the American incident control system in forest fires; ensuring safety in aerial operations and other activities; and fire investigation techniques. Each session lasts an hour and a half, and includes input from USFS staff and Brazilian experts.

In addition to training, the USFS is working on two other emergency fronts to cooperate with Brazilian partners in combating forest fires and trying to minimize risks to biodiversity. They are:

Partnerships – The USFS also continues to work with Aliança da Terra, a non governmental organization, to respond an emergency request from chief Kamayura and his brigade, mobilizing a special task force to strengthen the current operational fire-fighting response in the Xingu National Park, in the Alto Xingu area. The target is suppressing quickly and efficiently the fires that have spread throughout the indigenous area in recent days. All of this is being carried out with security measures against Covid-19 and the learning in the training and preventive action throughout the years.

Management recommendations – Although the work of the USFS and USAID/Brazil has focused on the Amazon for the past five years, the United States Forest Service is also engaged in assessment exercises and technical exchanges in the Pantanal. According to its staff, the characteristics of fires in this biome – such as surface and underground fires and difficult access – pose new challenges for the teams. They also make it difficult to set up strategies to protect animal and plant species, especially in federal Conservation Units.
In 2020, the Pantanal has recorded the largest number of fires in INPE's time series (started in 1998) – by mid-September, over 15,400 fire hotspots had already been identified. Other record years were 2005, with 12,536 outbreaks in 12 months; and 2002, with 12,486 fires in the same period.
In addition to combating fires, the USFS, USAID and Brazilian environmental institutions reiterate the need to increase the focus on prevention and management actions to stand up for the different biomas.