The largest wetland in the world, the Brazilian Pantanal, burns from above and below


The fires are the worst in 15 years and the flames threaten the biodiversity of the area.

POCONE, Brazil:

The largest wetland in the world is on fire, but the fire is often invisible. In the Brazilian Pantanal, the vegetation that was compacted under the swampy flood during the rainy season dries up when ponds and lagoons evaporate. Underground combustible debris can continue to smolder long after visible flames have died out.

Firemen across Brazil are battling raging towers of flames from the Amazon rainforest to the Cerrado savannah, but the fires beneath their feet are a particular challenge in the Pantanal.

The only way to fight an underground fire is by digging a trench around it, state firefighter Lieutenant Isaac Wihby said.

“But how do you do that when you have a line of fire that is 20 kilometers? It’s not viable,” he said.

The fires here are the worst in 15 years. The flames threaten the biodiversity of the region, which is rich in tapirs, pumas, capybaras and the world‘s densest jaguar population.

The Pantanal, whose name is derived from the Portuguese word for “swamp”, extends over more than 150,000 km² in Brazil and also extends to Bolivia and Paraguay.

As emergency helpers approached in the Pantanal this week, they used tractors to cut through parched trees and shrubs, leaving behind brown dirt that was supposed to deprive the flames of fuel and stop them from spreading.

But high winds can send the flames over the top, or underground fires can pass below.

“Sometimes it goes under a fire break and surprises the fire fighters,” said Lieutenant Jean Oliveira, who is in charge of fire fighting.

“Sometimes you control a fire and it isn’t actually dead, it just sleeps,” he said.

Hundreds of firefighters, environmental workers, park rangers and soldiers have worked 24 hours a day for weeks to put out flames that have destroyed thousands of square kilometers of the Pantanal.

At temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, a fire was unstoppable this week, as strong winds drove it over several outbreaks and burned through twisted branches and dry leaves all day and night.

“We checked it, but then it jumped there, jumped there, jumped there,” said Edmilson Rodrigo da Silva, a firefighter from the Brazilian state of West-West Mato Grosso, and pointed far into the distance where the fire was Outbreaks of fire.

The region is a huge floodplain that usually fills with water during the rainy season, around November to March. But the flooding this year has been less than normal and a subsequent drought has made the area dangerously fire-prone.

According to the Brazilian space research company Inpe, the Pantanal has recorded 4,677 “hot spots” in the worst fires since August 2005 this month.

Silva was one of about 20 men who fought the fire all night, immersed in suffocating smoke and swarmed by mosquitoes that were washed out of the undergrowth by flames that surrounded the firefighters on three sides. They warned to keep an eye out for poisonous snakes and jaguars that flee the fire at night.

Rain last week brought temporary relief to the southern half of the Pantanal, but this week the fires picked up again. It could get worse next month.

“It’s our worst year for fires here. It’s never been so dry,” said Silva.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)


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