Guatemalan Army Personnel Help Battle Blazes around Country
By Dialogo May 25, 2016
At least 30 members from every Guatemalan Army brigade have received training this year on how to fight forest fires, as the country's National System for the Prevention and Control of Forest Fires (SIPECIF) has increasingly called on the Guatemalan Army to assist battling blazes.
During the second week of April alone, members of the Special Brigade for Forest Operations – along with firefighters and other volunteers – spent six days extinguishing flames in the National Park of Laguna del Tigre, which is a protected area and makes up part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the department of Petén. “The Army trains its enlisted personnel and has made them available," SIPECIF’s spokesman, Adolfo Cifuentes, told Diálogo
. "For each Military brigade, between 50 and 80 members are always available, but, if more personnel are needed, they are always ready to help."
Army brigades in areas that are historically home to the highest number of fires have the most Military members with fire-fighting training.
Of the 292 forest fires recorded in Guatemala through the second week of May, 38 have been in Baja Verapaz; 38 in Totonicapán; 30 in Jutiapa; 28 in Quiché; 25 in Huehuetenango; and 23 in San Marcos, with the remaining 110 occurring throughout the Central American nation's 16 other departments, according to the National Forest Institute (INAB)’s Forest Protection Department.
However, Forest Protection Department Director Roger Agustín said there have been a total of 425 forest fires, but not all have required the attention of SIPECIF, which is comprised of the Army, National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), the National Coordination for Disaster Reduction (CONRED), the National Association of Municipalities (ANAM), and the INAB.
There has been an average of 530 forest fires annually for the past five years, affecting 9,571.3 hectares. The 292 forest fires this year through the second week of May have impacted 5,543.3 hectares, INAB reported.
Sixty percent of the blazes have been caused intentionally, 19 percent have been attributed to agricultural burning, 6 percent to lumberjacks, 4 percent to campfires, and the origins of 11 percent have yet to be identified, according to INAB.
High temperatures in March caused moisture reserves in the soil to become depleted earlier than expected, which favored forest fire proliferation.
The National Institute for Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH) reported that 62 percent of the fires have occurred between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time, “which is within the period when there is maximal solar radiation and a drop in relative humidity”. Temperatures also are expected to increase in the coming months, which coupled with a drop in moisture content "creates conditions conducive to forest fires".
The Guatemalan Military, in addition to the training provided to 30 members of each brigade, has “prepared squadrons from 12 brigades with tactics," Military Health Colonel and Army spokeswoman Karen López said. "Their team is ready because we know that the majority of fires are provoked."
Infantry General Álvaro Pérez, director of the Defense Ministry’s Integrated System of Risk Reduction, said his institution provides personnel to battle blazes and coordinates with firefighters and the CONRED. Integrated System of Risk Reduction personnel recently received training from the Brazilian Cooperation Agency during the first week of May.
Gen. Pérez stated his directorate coordinates the Army's assistance to the SIPECIF, not only with available personnel but also with vehicles that mobilize their own personnel and those from other institutions. Agustín agreed that the Army's help against forest fires is very important, given that the SIPECIF does not have a budget large enough to hire the necessary personnel, which is why the Army's role of having provided 378 Military personnel to the effort is vital.