The Serra Azul (Blue Ridge) State Park is a 27,000-acre reserve located on the edge of Barra do Garças – Mato Grosso. Due to its proximity to an urban center, the park has been prone to fire incidents since its creation. For more than 10 years running, this important conservation unit burned despite efforts to both prevent and combat wildfire.
In 2013, the State Prosecutor’s Office was at its wits’ end regarding solutions. The result was to contract Brigada Aliança under a three-year agreement to “test the waters.” Remarkably, during those three years, fire events steadily decreased down to nothing. This achievement was accomplished in large part due to the skill of the two fire leaders from Brigada Aliança who coordinated joint operations between the military firefighters, military, and the state wildland firefighters, PrevFogo. The net combination of tactics, strong leadership, multi-unit coordination and courage produced unprecedented outcomes. It became a case study of how people can work together to achieve great things, and all parties involved deserve equal credit.
On Brazilian Independence Day, September 7, 2017, an arson fire began in rugged terrain in an area the local military firefighters thought was too difficult to approach. High winds, excruciating heat and cliffs to scale proved daunting, but did not deter the Brigada Aliança fire crew. Led by Balke and Martins, a small team of four men and one woman that included state environmental agency volunteers began the vertical ascent to arrive at the fire. Equipped with only hand-held firefighting tools and their brains, they scaled a 20-meter cliff and tackled other difficult terrain and after an hour were able to get to the fire line. At 12:15 p.m., when temperatures were at 95º F, they split up into two teams to attack the fire from two fronts, using hand-held radios to communicate. After three hours of firefighting, they ran out of water and three personnel suffered heat exhaustion. Dehydrated, out of water and exhausted, the remaining two men were able to dig fire guards and burn black lines in time to execute backfires that removed the remaining fuel and semi-contained the 300-acre fire. By doing so, they managed to prevent a small fire from becoming a massive one that would have threatened to burn down the entire 27,000-acre park. On Day Two, they returned to the scene in the cool of the morning — along with additional personnel including military, civilian and state representatives — to finalize for mop-up operations.