Disasters & Accidents

Indigenous woman leads Amazonian fire fighting brigade

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Aug 6 (efe-epa).- Francisca Eloide Lima Chaves is from the Borari indigenous people and leads a fire brigade in the Brazilian Amazon.

She heads a group of volunteers protecting the region of Alter do Chao on the banks of the Tapajós River in the state of Pará from the threat of wildfires.

Lima fought the voracious blazes that devastated swathes of the Amazon jungle last year.

“The experience of that fire was completely new from the previous ones I had seen,” she said in an interview with Efe.

“We are in the Amazon and that makes an enormous difference.

“Fighting a fire in the Amazon is very different and that was a huge one.”

She spent three days in a row battling the flames in September.

At least 1,175 hectares of forest, the equivalent of 1,080 soccer pitches, in the Alter do Chao area were destroyed, amounting to seven percent of the reserve.

The magnitude of the fires in the Brazilian Amazon shocked the world after more than 30,000 were reported in August last year.

At that time, the Alter do Chao brigade had no protective clothing and only a few fire-fighting tools but plenty of desire and guts.

“We didn’t have anything. We would wear jeans and avoid t-shirts that could be flammable and we got a cotton blanket,” Lima said.

“Since we didn’t have a fire mask, we would use a shirt to cover our faces.”

Lima was a civilian firefighter in the state of Minas Gerais, where she lived for 15 years, but she had never tackled flames in the middle of the jungle or in the region where she was born.

As a Red Cross volunteer, emergency nurse and civilian firefighter, she was trained in the regional capital Belo Horizonte, more than 3,000 kilometers from her hometown and about two days away by bus.

“When I arrived the team had just been created and due to my experience with fires, they invited me to join the brigade,” she said.

“After that, we trained 21 brigadiers.”

The wildfires broke out less than 15 days after their training, she added.

The team became the focus of attention in Alter do Chao and their work has been internationally recognized by organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, which has donated funds to their cause.

A few months after its creation, the brigade was accused of provoking the flames in Alter do Chao in a bid to get more donations, something its members have always denied.

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