Prosa Pantaneira: experts explain the reason for the fires in the Pantanal in 2020 and refute the main fake news

Posted in: 02/12/2021

The efforts to recover the Pantanal, devastated by the severe fires of 2020, yielded several news stories in the media. However, with the notoriety of the theme, many fake news have arisen, some of them coming from the Brazilian government.

Understanding the importance of clarifying the facts, and to close the events of the Synergia In Defense of Pantanal Campaign, we held the Prosa Pantaneira meeting.

The chat with specialists who are working to monitor the damage caused, restore and preserve the Pantanal, among other actions, brought diverse points of view to help illustrate the real situation of the biome and put an end to the doubts left by false news.

We invited to this important conversation about the Pantanal:

  • Diego Arruda, veterinarian and communicator, responsible for the marketing department of SOS Pantanal.
  • Felipe Dias, an agricultural engineer with a master’s and doctorate in physical geography, has acted as executive director of SOS Pantanal since 2015.
  • Márcio Yule, state coordinator of Ibama/PrevFogo in Mato Grosso do Sul.
  • Renata Libonati, professor of meteorology at UFRJ. She works with research focused on the production of burned area data for the Pantanal.

Check out the video of the Prosa Pantaneira meeting in its entirety and learn more about the most relevant questions and answers about fires in the Pantanal.

Now you can see a summary of the main topics discussed during the meeting.

What was the real reason for the fires in the Pantanal?

Much has been questioned about the possibility of a wetland like the Pantanal suffering from such intense fires. But the history of fire in the region is nothing new, it was just aggravated by the dry season, more intense and prolonged in 2020, and the low level of flooding in the area, added to other factors, such as fires.

In 2020, the Pantanal lost more than 30% of its area to fires. The impacts are still being analyzed, but everything indicates that they will be long-lasting, with great damage to the soil, local fauna and flora.

According to Renata Libonati, the sequence and severity of the fires are worsening due to climate issues, rising temperatures, and human impacts. The variation in precipitation, rainfall, and humidity in the Pantanal is governed by climatic processes that occur as a consequence of temperature variations on the surfaces of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The low levels of the Paraguay River have also aggravated the conditions, favoring what she calls the “Fire Triangle“, composed of three ingredients that drive the fires: an oxidant (weather conditions), a fuel (vegetation/biomass) and ignition (human action – intentional or not).

About the meteorological conditions, Renata points out that without mitigating the increase in climate change, the rise in average global temperature will result in more frequent burning events. In the Pantanal, since 1980, temperatures have increased by 2°C and humidity has dropped by about 25% on average.

As for the second part of the equation, the fuel, Felipe Dias remembers that the region surrounding the Paraguay River is composed of deep-rooted soil, which is easy to burn and more difficult to control, providing one of the ingredients for this scenario.

As for the ignition process, the specialists pointed out that natural causes, such as lightning, can happen. But it is unlikely that these fires are not caused by human action.

It is worth remembering that the use of fire as a land management tool is prohibited in the Pantanal from August to October, and that all the fires started outside the conservation units.

Fighting the flames in the Pantanal

The work of fighting the fires in the Pantanal, as well as the images of the tragedy, drew worldwide attention. More than 250 people, including brigade members, firefighters, and volunteers were engaged in the mission to put out the flames that were consuming the area.

Márcio Yule highlights the performance of the indigenous brigades, the trained residents who gave the first combat, and who were fundamental for the emergency action against the fires, also acting based on information from LASA – Laboratory for Environmental Satellite Applications of the Meteorology Department of UFRJ, and the support of the army.

The safety of fighters, brigade members and volunteers was constantly put at risk by the strong winds that spread the fire. An ICMBio firefighter died trying to rescue animals from a fire in August, the crash of a helicopter used in the combat killed the pilot, and the death of a zoo technician on a property in Mato Grosso were some of the human losses registered.

Other concerns of the teams were the heat, the night fighting, and the lack of drinking water, in addition to the pandemic situation of Covid-19, which made the logistics of allocating so many people involved difficult.

Photo: Gustavo Figueiroa

Understanding the real situation of the Pantanal and refuting the fake news

Check out the main fake news that have been shared about the environmental tragedy in the Pantanal and the opinion of experts about them.

ICMBio firefighters provoking criminal burning

Diego Arruda: It makes no sense to accuse the people who are fighting of setting the fire.

Marcio Yule: It was an indirect combat and they were doing the protection of the conservation unit through an expansion burning. It was done so that, when the fire reached this area, it would be extinguished or it would be easier to fight, since the fuel of the fire had already been consumed there.

Burning is provoked by farmers

Diego Arruda: We need to make it very clear that most fires are started by human action, but many times it is not criminal and it is not intentional. People mismanage this fire when cleaning the area. This burning is historical in the Pantanal. Unfortunately, when all these factors come together, this burning ends up no longer being controlled.

Indigenous peoples arrested NGO members who set fire to the region

Diego Arruda: We know that in order to enter indigenous lands there is often a negotiation process. But this news is not true, we have not had any action of this type.

Márcio Yule: Today, in Brazil, the indigenous people are a great ally in preventing and fighting forest fires. They have immense empirical knowledge and with this experience in the use of fire, which has long been a cultural trait of the Indians, they have managed to manage the indigenous lands as if they were conservation islands in Brazil, together with the federal and state conservation units.

Boi Bombeiro – cattle ranching could prevent fires in the Pantanal

Diego Arruda: Cattle activity is very important for the Pantanal economy. Oxen consume organic matter, which serves as fuel. However, the government officials have said that cattle breeding has decreased and this is not reality. In the last 20 years, there has been an increase of almost 43% in the number of cattle.

Besides that, we need to consider that they are saying “Oh, if in the conservation units there were cattle consuming them, it would decrease.” Conservation units are only 5% of the Pantanal. And the fires happened mainly in areas where we have cattle ranching and farms.

President Bolsonaro’s speech at the UN – what is fact and what is fake?

Renata Libonati: During this speech we heard that Brazil would be the victim of a misinformation campaign in relation to the Amazon and the Pantanal itself, including saying that the Amazon forest is a humid region and that it only catches fire at the edges.

This is a completely outdated discourse, because the humidity of the Amazon has not been a barrier to fire for a long time, with the growing increase in deforestation, which facilitates the penetration of fire in this region.

He [the president] even questioned the satellite fire monitoring that is done in Brazil. All the techniques that we use, and I speak because I have worked for a long time at INPE and nowadays we also do the monitoring at UFRJ, are widely used by the biggest European satellite monitoring agencies, by NASA, by all the global agencies. There is no fact that shows that the techniques used by Brazilian research institutions and universities are wrong in relation to the correct monitoring of fire.


Diego Arruda: We can’t blame the government, exclusively. But we can’t isolate the government’s share of responsibility either. What we need to do is to think that we have to give subsidies so that the government can make the best decisions. Here is our part, we need to take the information in a correct way and, somehow, in this government or in other governments, hope that they understand and respect the views that we are bringing, because we are based on science.

*In the next Prosa Pantaneira news, we will bring you the answers from the experts to all the questions from the audience that were asked during the Live, and we will talk about how it is possible to help NGOs in this task of helping the Pantanal. Don’t miss it!

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