By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Firefighters and officials announced on Monday, October 20th, the suppression of the last of the forest fires that had raged in Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos (Órgãos Mountains National Park) and the mountains of Rio de Janeiro state for almost two weeks.
The Fire Department and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) said the rainfall during the night of the 19th and the early morning of the 20th helped to extinguish the fires in Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos.
“The rain started last night and lasted all day,” said Christian Berlinck, coordinator of the ICMBio, in a notice published by the institute the 20th.
During the time since the fire broke out in that region on October 7th, more the one hundred and twenty-nine firefighters, ICMBio members, and members of Prevfogo/RJ of IBAMA (Brazilian Institute of the Environment), worked to control it. “The rain helped us to extinguish the fire around the National Park. Currently, our teams are moving to leave the region after a thirteen-day operation, ” said Berlinck.
Additionally, in Itaipava and Araras, Rio de Janeiro two water-dropping helicopters were used to suppress the forest fires in those areas. While battling the wild fires there, firefighters still reported locals setting garbage and brush fires, despite warnings and dry conditions.
“Every day a resident burns leaves in the yard,” Colonel Roberto Robadey of the Fire Department, told Agência Brasil while the fires raged. “This is a totally irresponsible in this time of drought. A person loses control of the fire and he reaches the forest.”
Early reports estimate that the fires might have destroyed over 5,000 hectares (one hectare equals 10,000 square meters) in the area and in the Parque Nacional da Serra dos Órgãos combined.
“The fire takes the vegetation cover of the steep slopes of the mountain region,” Robadey told Agência Brasil when explaining the damage and the future dangers of landslides, a type of natural disaster that has historically plagued that region. “When the rain comes, without the natural protection that the vegetation gives the slopes, the land slips and can end up falling on the houses.”
According to the ICMBio, which is responsible for conservation in the areas between cites that include Petropolis, Teresopolis, Guapimirim and Magé, the vegetation destroyed by the fires included thousands of plant species. Additionally, over one hundred species of endangered animals reportedly lived in the area.
Christian Berlinck, coordinator of the ICMBio, said of the future restoration, “there is a possibility that the surrounding area will be restored in two years, while there is no assessment of how long it will take for the forest area to be reclaimed.”