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Coordination, technical exchange during fire season in South America

WASHINGTON, DC—In August and September, the USDA Forest Service’s Disaster Assistance Support Program responded to requests by the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, sending fire management personnel to Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay to provide assistance and exchange on strategy, coordination and investigation. Four fire personnel deployed to Bolivia, building on U.S. Forest Service Incident Command System training given there by the agency in 2018. The Forest Service and OFDA also provided Bolivia with a bulk delivery of firefighting personal protective equipment and hand tools. In Brazil, a team of six fire investigators and suppression managers deployed to focus on new fire starts, building on almost 30 years of collaboration. And in Paraguay, a team of three fire personnel deployed to assess current situation and needs. The team was able to reference training completed in 2009.  

The teams each provided a critical response to the South America fire season that has tracked well above average for many parts of the region.  Annual weather patterns mark now as typically dry and fire vulnerable for much of South America, driving international concern for the increase in fires to date and the potential fire damage to continue, especially for ecosystems such as the Amazon. The fires are human-caused, scattered and widespread, occurring on private lands, the deforested interface of agricultural lands and forests, as well as in protected areas and indigenous lands.
The Forest Service has been involved with long-term fire efforts in multiple countries of South America, carrying out country specific assessments on fire management, providing community and government training to firefighters, collaborating on International Fire Management Training and working with national fire and land management organizations to develop wildland fire policy and strategy. Spanish-speaking Forest Service fire management staff and Latin America counterparts from countries with longstanding partnerships support the assessments, trainings, meetings and exchanges. 

These longstanding efforts lead to benefits that include suppression, investigation and coordination techniques resulting from trainings; regional efforts to manage fires based on Incident Command System structure; and advances in prescribed fire credited with protecting portions of public land from wildfire and increasing biodiversity.

Firefighters huddled for discussion in a clearing.
In June 2019, Forest Service and Brazilian fire managers share experiences with prescribed fire to prevent or decrease wildfires from burning into protected areas from escaped agricultural burns. USDA Forest Service photo.