“All of this makes me very proud. I am a woman, I am a mother, I am indigenous and I command the Alter do Chao brigade, ”says Francisca Eloide Lima.

Woman, mother and indigenous: the brigadista who fights fire in the Amazon

The force that characterizes the Borari indigenous women runs through the veins of Francisca Eloide Lima Chaves. She is in charge of commanding the Alter do Chao Fire Brigade, a paradise in the Amazon jungle that is preparing for the possible arrival of new fires in the region.Lima fought the voracious fires that last year spread through this oasis of fresh water and extensive beaches in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon and since this year lead a group of volunteers fighting to safeguard this region that rises on the banks of the Tapajós River, in the state of Pará, from fire.“The experience of that fire was completely new to anyone who had already lived. We are in the Amazon and that has a very big difference (…). Fighting fire in the Amazon is very different and it was a fire of a very large proportion“He tells EFE in an interview, referring to the fires of last year.They were three days in a row of combat against the flames in September 2019. A battle that, however, destroyed at least 1,175 hectares of jungle in the middle of the Alter do Chao environmental area, 7.34% of the reserve, and the equivalent of about 1,080 soccer fields .And it is that last year the magnitude of the fires in the Brazilian Amazon shocked the whole world. In August alone, more than 30,000 outbreaks were counted.Back then, the Alter do Chao Brigade He had no protective uniforms and barely had a few implements to fight fires, but he had plenty of will and guts to face his voracious enemy.“Here we had nothing, we wore jeans, we were careful not to wear a flammable shirt and we got ourselves a cotton blanket; What we didn’t have fireproof balaclavaWe would put a shirt on our faces, some worker’s boots and we felt like the last thing, ”he says.But Lima already knew the flames closely. He has faced fires for years in metropolitan areas of the state of Minas Gerais (southeast), where he lived 15 years and learned to fight fire, but I had never done it in the middle of the jungle and not in the region where it was born.Red Cross lifeguard, Nursing technician specialized in urgency and emergency and civil firefighter, she was trained in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, a region located more than 3,000 kilometers from her hometown and about two days away by bus.“When I arrived the group was just created and because of my fire curriculum they invited me to participate in the Brigade. After that we formed 21 brigadistas. Not even 15 days had passed when that fire happened inside the savanna (as a type of Amazon biome is known) ”, he explains.Learn from mistakes The Brigade and its army of volunteers became the center of attention in Alter do Chao and its surroundings, and his work became internationally recognized by organizations such as the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) that contributed financially to his cause.However, a few months after its creation and having achieved its first triumphs, its own Brigade was accused of causing the flames in Alter do Chao to get donations in their favor, something that their leaders have always denied.Due to the facts, four of them were imprisoned in November of last year, but a month later they were released after habeas corpus and the Prosecutor’s Office returned the investigation to the awaiting stronger evidence.Although the investigation continues, it is not the first time that environmental organizations are victims of this type of accusation, mostly from sectors interested in taking advantage of the Amazon.Even President Jair Bolsonaro, recognized for his anti-environmental policy, suggested in August last year, when Brazil was in the world’s sights for the devastating fires in its Amazon rainforest, that some NGOs could be behind of that ecological disaster to damage the image of his Government.Despite the fact that the Brigade always acted in coordination with the firefighters of the region, the ingenuity and the desire to always want to be the first in helping led her to make mistakes from which she claims to have learned. That is why now the group will only work by trade to protect itself, since it is not known who is behind the burns or the danger to which they may be exposed.“It’s going to be better this way, because what we did before was open-hearted and we did it out of love but it ended up as it did,” says the brigadista, who despite everything that happened does not hide her passion for what she does. “All of this makes me very proud. I am a woman, I am a mother, I am indigenous and I command the Alter do Chao brigade ”, he emphasizes.Criminal handsAlthough some fires are caused by nature, the most arise from criminal interests that devastate large areas of environmental reserves and then burn the soils and turn them into illegal areas for agribusiness. Those that occurred in Alter do Chao, apparently, have their origin in real estate speculation.Because it is a paradisiacal region, with indigenous reserves and white beaches on the banks of the Tapajós, tourism has increased in recent years and criminal hands have wanted to take advantage of the situation. illegally occupying land in the middle of the jungle to later sell them.These occupations have caused the devastation of a large area of ​​the environmental reserve from Alter do Chao, a conservation unit with more than 16,000 hectares that borders the Tapajós National Forest, a larger reserve, of 527,000 hectares, and that one more year is under the threat of fire.And it is that the Brazilian Amazon begins to relive at this time the drama of last year after accounting 6,803 fire outbreaks in July alone, the largest for this month since 2017, which paint a gloomy scenario for the rest of the dry season.Deforestation, the main cause of fires, skyrocketed 85% in 2019, with 9,165 square kilometers of forest cut down, and by this year it could reach 12,500 square kilometers, according to the Climate Observatory, an organization that brings together some thirty environmental NGOs.