The air-conditioned coach stops in the sweltering heat of high noon. Five men with heavy boots, in orange overalls, their faces covered behind pieces of cloth, protective plastic glasses and hats, storm towards the bus. Two of the men, who look as athletic as exhausted and hungry, hold long machetes in their hands. Their accomplice, the only one whose face is not covered, is waiting in an old, red pick-up truck, the engine running.
Behind the lush green hills, columns of smoke rise. There must be seven or eight seats of fire, in the close vicinity alone. As I step off the bus, the heat (37 degrees Celsius, 99 degrees Fahrenheit) and the smell of fire and smoke hit me. Not the good smell of a barbecue, but the bad smell of danger, destruction and death.
The town of Lençois doesn’t look very busy, but the five men are. One of them talks to the bus driver only briefly and opens the cargo door. They take out a few batches of water, jump onto their pick-up truck and speed off.
In other countries, if a national park is burning, the government mobilizes the national guard, provides planes and helicopters and fire departments from other states help out. In Brazil, even after several weeks of forest fires, it’s up to the volunteers from the small town of Lençois in their 1950s Ford pick-up truck to battle the raging fires. Besides the machetes, I only saw one shovel and one pickax. That’s all these men have. Plus the water which someone sent them as a donation from Salvador, 425 km away.
The sunset looks eerie, as if the fire is closing in on the town.
As I walk back home, I see smoke on the opposite side of the town too.
This is how we go to bed in Lençois, not knowing how close the fires will come at night. But then, sleeping well in the face of danger is something we can learn from all the inactive government officials.
I will stay in Lençois for 3 more weeks, so you will receive regular updates, inside stories and analysis. Tomorrow, I will try to hike close to where the fires are to take a look myself. But the real mystery is of course who started these fires, because almost nobody I spoke to believes in a natural cause. There haven’t been any thunderstorms and there are just too many fires popping up everywhere.
I loved your iniciative. I have friends that fights with this fire for long 5 dys in a forest.
They with few help and lot of faith, they got control it in this region, one of the citys of Chapada.
Good Luck and take carne.
I have lots of admiration for these tough people, but even more admiration for not giving up in the light of such huge and many fires, and knowing that the whole government is inactive.
But maybe the State of Bahia can wake up again when they need to organize carnivals, football matches or concerts.
If you know any of the volunteers who speaks English, I would be very happy to speak to them or to join them on their mission. (After all, I was a volunteer firefighter in Germany, although we don’t really have such huge forest fires, mainly because we don’t have many consecutive days without rain.)
Pingback: Die Chapada Diamantina brennt noch immer | Der reisende Reporter
2 weeks ago, they said that the fire was already controled, forrais reason the force army and aeronautic army gone. But even them didnt get help very much because the airplane could not get very close. Also, the burning is happening in places that is really hard to get. The hot and Wind are helping in spread the fire. The state sent at least 50 firemen more this week. The fire are not just in lençóis, but also Mucugê, andarai and ibicoara.
But its true, they dont have any struture or skills for to do it in this proposion.
It really doesn’t look controlled. As you approach Lencois from Salvador, you see columns of smoke everywhere in the national park.
Focused and surprised by this. Excellent.
Pingback: The kind of surprises you find when hiking in Brazil | The Happy Hermit
I’ve read that government sent R$500.000,00 to BA helping volunteers to control flames. Have you seen any firefighters using new equipments?
Sad to know state can make this fires to steal public money :(
Today I saw a helicopter bringing and dropping water repeatedly. I haven’t seen anything else today, but I was hiking towards the fire myself, so I couldn’t see any action in Lencois, let alone any other base for firefighters.
The smell of smoke must be awful. Besides fauna and flora, people’s health also get bad with this.
Either I got used to it, or I don’t smell it anymore. Or the fires have shifted. The one today was so far from town and the wind blew the smoke into the air, that I didn’t smell anything even when I was only about 1 km away.
Pingback: My Christmas 2015: Pai Inacio | The Happy Hermit