By Ibes Fabián Dávila
Photos by Felipe León
This article was translated by Oscar Gómez
It’s six o’clock in the morning, the sky is fully clear in the forest; it’s such the tranquility, that the wind that blows between rocks and pines can be heard. A squirrel begins its journey from its burrow and a condor flies majestically in the sky searching for food.
The temperature rises at the afternoon, the deer seeks to quench its thirst, while the puma searches for a cool place among the rocks. Deep in the forest, there are some campers who get ready to walk, leaving a smoking campfire used to prepare a delicious coffee.
The tranquility of the forest is interrupted by the warning call of its inhabitants, the forest is on fire! The over 300 years old trees are covered in flames; deers, pumas, birds, and reptiles flee at full speed to get away from that red monster that radiates heat and fear. No one can stop it! Everybody flees looking for shelter, some managed to escape and others perished in the attempt.
The fire was extinguished after two weeks of terror, leaving only death and loneliness. The calm returns at dawn, but with a desolate landscape. Will the beauty of the forest return? Maybe, with the passing of the years, with a little help.
Juan, Felipe and Alfredo, are part of the park rangers’ team who cover a shift of 13 days in the Sierra San Pedro Mártir National Park. This group is accompanied by a rural fire brigade formed by Francisco, Juan Núñez, Luis José, and Abel, who are in charge of the prevention and control of forest fires.
The working day begins at 7 a.m., when the national park’s doors open. After enjoying an exquisite coffee, Juan and Felipe begin the camping areas’ first trip, while Alfredo is receiving the visitors, giving them safety instructions and what they can and cannot do within the Natural Protected Area.
Juan and Felipe clean the campsites and latrines, after a group of visitors leaves. Once they have completed the first tour and cleaned the camping areas, they return to replenish their energy by preparing a delicious and nutritious breakfast.
After breakfast, around noon, the fire’s peak period begins. The members of the rural fire brigade head to the watchtowers, located in strategic points for the forest fires detection. From one of the towers, Francisco detects a column of smoke and warns all the group to get ready to fight the fire. The brigade is equipped with water backpacks sprayers, with a weight of 25 kilos, personal protective equipment, shovels, food such as canned tuna, serum, water, cookies, and some fruit.
The fire caused by a poorly built campfire gets out of control, the brigade returns for more provisions and equipment to spend the night in the fire zone; it’s uncertain when they will extinguish the fire, camping is the only option to control it. After a week, the fire is controlled and extinguished, the group is tired and the team members show some visible wounds, caused by the rough terrain and high temperatures. The group goes to rest to continue their work.
It’s well known that fires are part of the forests dynamics and they play an important role in the regeneration of the same, most of them occur naturally, but 90% of fires are caused by human activities, causing loss of biodiversity, hydrological cycles alteration, and greenhouse gas emission, which contribute to global warming.
Park rangers play an important role by controlling and preventing forest fires. However, they not only extinguish fires, a park ranger’s job is also to monitor, study, and restore the different ecosystems, they watch and protect the natural resources, and make the public aware of their importance, they also support search and rescue efforts, and they can provide first aid within a Natural Protected Area.
They sometimes work 24-hours shifts, far from home and from their loved ones, sometimes they risk their lives to preserve nature.