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In the Paraná Delta wildfires threaten islanders, change an ecosystem

I heard screams and squeals, and saw branches become dust in the heat of the furnace. I cannot forget the shocking colors of the fire. Tints of red and orange transmitted an oppressive, uncontrollable, and devastating heat.

  • 3 months ago
  • December 18, 2022
4 min read
Francisco Díaz at the Alvear base of operations, fighting fires at the Paraná Delta Francisco Díaz at the Alvear base of operations, fighting fires at the Paraná Delta | Photo courtesy of Francisco Díaz
Francisco Díaz
Interview Subject
Francisco Diaz belongs to the Civil Protection department of the Province of Santa Fe. He serves as the coordinator of the area and takes charge of organizing the protection of the islands and fire management from the Alvear Aerodrome Unified Command, a bunker installed exclusively to fight the fire.
Background Information
In 2020, more than 4,500 potential fire sources were detected through satellite data in the Paraná Delta. Like other environmental and political conflicts, the indiscriminate burning of pastures exposes the lack of a collective discussion on the criteria for the use of the territory. So far, in 2022, at least 1,128 fires have been recorded in the country, and a total affected area of 375,000 hectares.

The Paraná Delta occupies some 19,300 square kilometers, close to the main urban centers of Argentina. Today, columns of smoke rise from those islands that reach Rosario, San Nicolás, or San Pedro. At the moments of greatest intensity of the sources, the smoke reached the AMBA (Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area).

The Civil Defense is the part of national defense that includes a set of non-aggressive measures and activities aimed at avoiding, canceling, or reducing the effects that war, natural agents, or any other disaster may cause to the population and their assets. They contribute to restoring the normal rhythm in the affected area.

ALVEAR, Argentina — When we arrived at the Paraná Delta, we witnessed the desolate panorama of a sixth-generation fire burning in extreme conditions. We fight the fires to help the islanders and the ecosystem. However, we could not have understood the magnitude until we saw it with our own eyes.

The flames placed the homes in the area at risk. They endangered the lives of the brigade members and the animals fleeing from danger. I heard screams and squeals, and saw branches become dust in the heat of the furnace. I cannot forget the shocking colors of the fire. Tints of red and orange transmitted an oppressive, uncontrollable, and devastating heat.

Read more stories about fire-related incidents and heroes around the globe from Orato World Media.

The smell of burning grass mixed with smoke brought tears to my eyes and hurt my throat. The fire emanated suffocating temperature and contaminated the oxygen in the air.

Fighting the fire like a theater of war

The Unified Command progressively worked on saving something precious – our natural resources. On the frontline, I could see the damage to the ecosystem. I had to force myself to breathe, selecting the air or volume of contaminated oxygen I allowed to enter my body. Together with me team, we performed protective maneuvers.

While this is my work, I felt the strongest sense of shock I ever experienced with this fire. You think and strategize about the tasks in front of you, always keeping the image of the island in mind. Yet, when you arrive, you find something else entirely.

The team reviews their plans to combat the fire in the Argentine delta | Photo Courtesy of Francisco Díaz

The island feels like a set of parentheses – a world apart from everything else. It has become a space where many more people live than expected. These residents live out their days enjoying the silence, interrupted only by the sound of the engines on the fishermen’s boats. They take in the smell of the uncontaminated river.

Then, the fires come. The area begins to feel like a theater of war. The team fights the fire, risking their lives and working against the clock. They put their bodies in danger while living in a state of tension and expectation.

The Paraná Delta ecosystem changes as fires rage

The fight moved us daily and we traveled by water and air. We traversed vast kilometers, seeing fire after fire. Everything burned around us. At one point, in the middle of the struggle to put out an area, we witnessed the fire destroy everything. I feared for the team’s safety.

In the course of our work, we see plant and animal species die. The consequences and losses remain incalculable. Sometimes, when we return to an area we fought hard to extinguish, we see new fires breaking out.

Francisco helping with the operations to fight the fire | Photo Courtesy of Francisco Díaz

In those areas where vegetation began to renew, they seem different, as if they are predisposed to burning. The new fires start much faster, making it difficult for us to predict. We have to start all over again.

Now, some areas have been reduced to ash. These locations on the Paraná Delta once served as home to islanders and important species of plants and animals. Today, it lays baren. With everything destroyed, the image of the landscape looks foreign. The entire ecosystem changes as a whole, but we keep working. We contain the fires and prevent further damage.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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