“We need to deal with the fire from the perspective of deconstructing this culture. We have to face this. It is a culture of destruction that is extinguishing animals, springs, green areas and putting our species at risk as well”. This is how environmentalist Adriana Araújo, from the Minas Gerais Movement for Animal Rights (MMDA), faces the reality of fires that, especially at this time of year, devastate not only the state, but various regions of the country.
99% of forest fires are caused by human actions
In 2021, until September 7, Minas Gerais had already surpassed the historical average of occurrences of forest fires in protected areas, according to data from the state government itself. In this period, 534 outbreaks were registered, and the annual historical average is 354, considering 2013 and 2020.
To minimize the damage, this week, a task force – composed of the Military Police of Minas Gerais, Civil Police, Fire Department, State Secretariat for the Environment and Sustainable Development (Semad) and State Forestry Institute (IEF) – was started to reprimand the criminal practice of fire in six conservation units in the state considered to be the most vulnerable.
Last public tender for state environmental agencies took place in 2013
Although the action is important, for Adriana, fires are not fought only when they happen. “We only talk about burning when it’s happening. So this shows an evident lack of commitment to combating this reality. Effective service happens when you prevent and not when you fight problems”, he points out. The activist also cites floods as the other side of the coin, as they are environmental and social issues that alternate according to the rainfall regime.
::Fire in Chapada dos Veadeiros has already reached an area corresponding to 8,000 soccer fields::
Forestry engineer Rafael Oberdan, from the Union of Public Servants for the Environment in the State of Minas Gerais (Sindsema/MG), explains that there are several factors that lead the population to set fires in rural areas. One of them is that, historically, fire is considered a cleaning tool, used to eliminate waste or to renew pasture. However, currently there is a lack of control and an oversight that mainly involves the lack of commitment of public managers.
“There is the banalization of burning. And this has been largely the responsibility of the federal government itself, which encourages the occupation of areas through force. And fire is also an instrument of strength”, he emphasizes.
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In August 2019, for example, farmers and landowners promoted the “day of fire” in the Amazon, contributing to the darkening of the sky in São Paulo during the afternoon. Also last year, in addition to the Amazon, fires in the Cerrado and Pantanal have increased dramatically.
And at this time of year, at the end of winter, with high temperatures, strong winds and low air humidity, the fire speed becomes uncontrollable. Any spark can become a fire of enormous proportions. The custom of burning roadsides, as Rafael explains, is one of the main problems seen in the state, as the fire is carried by the wind, surpassing firebreaks, reaching rural properties and reaching conservation units.
Data from the IEF show that 99% of forest fires are caused by human actions, with 2/3 being caused by accidents in the handling of fire.
To change this ancient culture, Adriana says that public environmental education policies that are capable of making the population aware of the damage caused by fires are fundamental. “We need public managers, parliamentarians, prosecutors, judges, but especially legislators, truly committed to good living and who consider the life not only of humans, but the life of animals, the life of water and of the woods. Because everything is interconnected”, he comments.
::Climate Observatory warns of the risk of a new tragedy caused by fires in the Pantanal::
The strengthening of environmental agencies should also be on the government’s agenda when the subject is fire prevention. On the contrary, as Rafael says, over the last few years there has been a current process of scrapping, budget reduction and devaluation of civil servants. He says that the last public examination for the bodies of the State System for the Environment (Sisema) took place in 2013 and, since then, there has been a lack of personnel, as many have left or retired.
The problem is serious when one considers the IEF Forest Fire Prevention and Fight Program (Previncêndio), which works to prevent and fight fire in protected areas. “Each year, the budget ends up being limited, because the demand to cut costs is great. In 2021, we only managed to have recourse because of the agreement that was made with Vale, which part of it was used to hire brigade members [que são temporários]. For next year, we don’t know how it will be”, he points out.
burning is a crime
Forest fire is considered an environmental crime provided for in Article 41 of the Environmental Crimes Law (9,605) of 1998. The penalty of imprisonment varies from 2 to 4 years and a fine. Reports of suspicious or criminal behavior can be made by 181 or 190.
Source: BoF Minas Gerais
Edition: Elis Almeida