Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity

by Ya'axche Conservation Trust
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity
Building Community Fire Fighting Capacity

Wild fires, also known as forest fires, can be defined as uncontrolled or non-prescribed burning in natural ecosystems. While the earlier perception was that all fires are bad and had to be suppressed, there has since been consensus in the scientific community that fire is a natural and important factor. Fires can be beneficial in helping to release nutrients from dead organic matter, reducing accumulation of deadwood which acts as microhabitats for insect pests, and preventing grasslands and pine forests from being overrun with woody shrubs and other trees of lesser value. Additionally, some plants require fire to germinate.

There are tree types of forest fires: ground fires which occur in substrate beneath the forest floor, surface fires which occur in detritus on the forest floor and crown fires which occur along the length of trees. Crown fires are the most destructive whereby they can destroy large swathes of forests, threaten wildlife, contribute to pollution and threaten human well-being.  

 Human activities, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, is resulting in increasing rates of destructive forest fires. These activities include agriculture/ranching where fires are used to clear lands and hunting, where fire is used to lure prey.

 One tool that has been effective in the management of destructive forest fires is prescribed fires or controlled burns. As part of its outreach efforts, Ya’axché provides fire management trainings with community leaders and interested farmers in the Maya Golden Landscape of southern Belize. Among other things, famers are taught how to safely conduct prescribed fires. In the 2022 Fire season, Ya’axché supported farmers from two communities to successfully conduct prescribed burns. This support came in the provision of essential gears/equipment.

 Ya’axché has identified the need to continue to spread awareness on fire prevention and or proper management. Your continued support of our campaign will make it possible to implement vital trainings, and procure additional firefighting equipment, to farmers and community leaders in our target villages. 

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Fire Awareness Post
Fire Awareness Post

Typically Belize’s fire season initiates on February 15th and ends on June 30th. In 2022, Ya'axche observed a slow commencement of the fire season however, this has not slowed down the continued fire work the organization has been undertaking. 

As a part of the continued awareness raising work, Ya'axche's COL and communication's team have been working ardously in spreading the word on the effects fire can have to local communities, farms and forests. Ya'axche's Facebook page has garnered over 10K followers from all over the country, region and world. This has proved to be one of the most effective tools utilized to spread the awareness on various important current conservation efforts including that of Fire Management. 

Below is an example of the posts made that showcases the "Tip of the Month" on Fire. 

Fire Awareness Post

*Ya’axché Tip of Month:
Remember not to use fire on a windy and hot day.
If you can’t control it, don’t start it! 

We are on the onset of the dry season in Belize and to prevent risks of escaping fires we encourage everyone to be cautious when using fire for subsistence farming. Prevent wildfires by:
notifying your neighbors and community leaders of planned control burns
not starting a fire within or near a forested area
not leaving behind any potential source of ignition such as cigarettes, torch or campfires lit

Ya’axché encourages safety when conducting controlled burns.

Togther with the social media work, Ya'axche Community Outreach and Livelihood's team has also been working on the revision and updating of our radio 

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Ya'axche and Benque community fire team
Ya'axche and Benque community fire team

Fire management has become a critical component of Ya’axché’s work, particularly within our Community Outreach and Livelihoods (COL) program. Although fire does impact the protected areas which Ya’axché manages and our enforcement rangers are trained in fire fighting basics, it is the COL team that works directly with the local communities of the Maya Golden Landscape (MGL), building relationships and assisting community farms to implement more sustainable agriculture to help better local livelihoods. As fire is almost always a byproduct of the traditional milpa, or slash-and-burn agriculture, its management naturally falls to the COL team.   

Ya’axché has learned a lot and has made great progress towards strong fire management within the MGL over the past few years. Fire management has grown to play an important role within Ya’axché’s conservation and livelihood development strategy. One flame to thatch (the traditional and common roofing structure in Maya communities) and a home is gone, illustrating fire management is about forest and ecosystem conservation as it is about human life and livelihoods.  

As Belize is between fire seasons, I took this opportunity to talk through Ya’axché’s past and current fire strategy with Mr. Erwin Tush, an Agroforestry Extension Officer, trained in fire management, who has been with Ya’axché for over two years.   

The 2020 Fire Season 

Mr. Tush first gained fire experience when, in the spring of 2020, Ya’axché was invited by the Benque community, located in Belize’s Cayo District, to assist with fighting fire in the Vaca Forest Reserve. He described the need to strategize how to most effectively fight the fire because of the mountainous terrain and the thick layer of litter, of at least 6 inches in depth, which causes fire to crawl under the detritus layer and spread quicklyOne of the challenges was the lack of a developed relationship with Benque and the surrounding communities, especially because of the vital role communication and understanding is in successful firefighting efforts. Furthermore, the 2020 fire season demonstrated Ya’axché’s limits in meeting the local and national needs, particularly in terms of staff and equipment  

The 2021 Fire Season

Mr. Tush started the fire season by attending an engaging and informative fire management training hosted and led by Dos Fuegos, where he was able to expand his knowledge and reflect on the 2020 fire season to determine Ya’axché’s strengths and areas of improvement in terms of dealing with fire within the broadleaf forest landscapeThis led to strong engagement of MGL communities through hands-on fire trainings. With Covid-19 still active in Belize, the trainings led by Ya’axché had to be conducted with the utmost care and planning. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, Ya’axché was able to work with a total of six villages in southern Belize during this season: 

  • The villages of Trio, Indian Creek, Medina Bank and Bladen became more involved in fire management 
  • San Pedro Columbia village requested fire training, which Ya’axché facilitated through a one-day classroom session and a one-day practical session which included a controlled burn   
  • Assistance with controlled burns was requested by community members of Medina Bank, San Pedro Columbia and Big Falls and provided by Ya’axché  
  • Fire equipment was requested and borrowed by the communities of Indian Creek, Medina Bank and Bladen 

Ya’axché’s Fire Management Program Goals

“I knew nothing about fire but now I take it seriously, especially during fire season.”

 – Mr. Erwin Tush, Ya’axché Agroforestry Extension Officer 

Mr. Tush epitomizes the change Ya’axché seeks to make within all 10 communities we work within the MGL. Going forward, the ultimate goal is to procure proper fire equipment for one fire team per MGL village. However, this is quite ambitious, as just one set of fire suit and boots costs BZD $1,500. Ya’axché has seen firsthand the desire of local communities to safely manage fire, and so we can confidently say that this equipment would be put to good use. As always, we thank you, our GlobalGiving supporters for allowing us to work towards training and equipping the MGL communities to manage fire to save livelihoods.  

"Before" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
"Before" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
"During" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
"During" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
"After" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
"After" - Controlled Burn in Big Falls Village
A Community Fire Fighter in Medina Bank Village
A Community Fire Fighter in Medina Bank Village
Medina Bank Community Fire Fighting Team
Medina Bank Community Fire Fighting Team

Links:

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Integrated fire management training
Integrated fire management training

Ya’axché spent the 2021 fire season building capacity, strengthening education and awareness and lending technical support to local  communities across southern Belize’s Maya Golden Landscape (MGL).

 

To prepare for the 2021 fire season, ten San Pedro Columbia village volunteer firefighters, consisting of Village Council, Alcalde and community members came together to build their capacity in the management and proper control of fire through the technical support and guidance of Ya’axché.In April, Ya’axché’s fire team facilitated this two day fire management training for ten MGL community members in the village of San Pedro Columbia. As one of the MGL communities severely impacted by the raging fires of 2020, which destroyed many acres of forest and farmland, Ya’axché was invited to facilitate a two-day training in April for these firefighters, which focused  on the importance of fire management at the landscape level, weather impacts on fire severity and  fire behavior. A control burn demonstration concluded the training, which provided participants the opportunity to be introduced to fire equipment and associated fire safety protocols. The planned control burn practical session was conducted on a local community farm where participants had the opportunity to create a fire break and manage  a fire within a controlled environment.

 

To complement the fire training, Ya’axché had an informative radio show on April 15, 2021 which premiered on local radio station-Sunshine Raydio. The Ya’axché fire team discussed the importance of integrated fire management in the MGL and how to conduct a control burn. The radio talk show also spotlighted San Pedro Columbia’s  community firefighters including Mr. Basilicas Choco, San Pedro Columbia village chairman, who took part in the capacity training. He shared his experience on the impact of fire and his community initiatives in building a firefighting team. Ya’axché recognizes that fire is a major threat to local communities, farmlands and forests and the radio show provided another way for technical support and awareness on fire management to be disseminated to MGL communities. To further expand their reach, the Ya’axché fire team were guests on a Belizean podcast called the Mada Fyah. The podcast focused on forest fire management where the fire team shared about proper control burn and alternatives to use of fire in agriculture in the segment called “Integrated fire management in the Maya Golden Landscape”- start listening at 15:58.

 

Ya’axché also provided technical support to three farmers in the months of April and May to conduct managed control burns on their milpa farmlands ranging from two to five acres. Ya’axché’s fire team carried out farmland inspections in preparation for the burn, as well as transported necessary materials to prepare and execute the burns. Two of the three controlled burns were executed by a fire team previously trained by Ya’axché.  These requests for support in carrying out burns at the community level, which only increased post-radio show and podcast broadcast, demonstrates that there is an increase in the awareness to manage fires responsibly. These positive steps demonstrate Ya’axché’s community-based fire management approach is working,both in terms of awareness and local action. 

 

We are grateful that our technical support assisted in having a commendable fire season. Many thanks to our GlobalGiving donors for allowing us to integrate fire management in the communities of the MGL. With your support, the future for fire management is very hopeful and can be expanded to incorporate science-based decisions and management practices.Ya’axché looks forward to continuing to build community fire management through further capacity building, controlled burns and equipment in 2022.

Ya'axche's Fire boss lecturing on fire management
Ya'axche's Fire boss lecturing on fire management
San Pedro Columbia trainees
San Pedro Columbia trainees
Flier for radio talk show
Flier for radio talk show
Conducting a control burn
Conducting a control burn
Successful completion of a control burn
Successful completion of a control burn
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Refresher Course: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Refresher Course: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche

Belize’s fire season has commenced for 2021 and can have devastating repercussions if not properly understood and managed. Ya'axché Conservation Trust has been in full gear preparing for this 2021 fire season, which initiated on the 15th of February and culminates on the 30th of June. 

The first step was a national-level, week-long capacity-building opportunity presented to our staff. Ya’axche’s second-in-command fire boss, Mr. Erwin Tush, participated in a fire training session held from the 1st to the 8th February 2021. The Belize Forest Department organized the training session, which was executed by Dos Fuegos Fire Management. Dos Fuegos specializes in solving fire management problems using fire effect monitoring, fire behavior, and fuel assessment in fire-prone ecosystems. It also provides managers and practitioners with methods for science-based solutions to fire management. Conducted virtually due to Covid-19, the session allowed participants around the country to attend and participate. Topics covered in training included establishing an Incident Command System, leadership capacity building, hazards and risks, tactics and strategies, Incident Response Planning, prescribed burn planning and management, and the art of igniting a fire. 

A refresher course, which included strategization of managing fire through an integrated approach, was conducted with Ya’axché’s fire team on 17th February 2021 to continue preparing for the fire season. The refresher course was executed by Ya’axché’s fire boss, Mr. Eugenio Ah, along with Mr. Erwin Tush, who transferred knowledge from his previous participation in the national fire training session. This internal course highlighted the vitality of a fire team’s Incident Command System (ICS), proper handling and use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the importance of proper fire management practices. Additionally, the refresher course focused on communicating the following takeaway points for the upcoming fire season:  

  • Implementing proper fire management not only on farms but within protected areas and buffering communities 
  • Enhancing the sustainability of Inga alley cropping, cacao-based agroforestry, and beekeeping through proper fire management practices
  • Establishing key partners to foster firefighting stewardship within buffer communities to prevent escaped fires 
  • Incorporating scientific monitoring and research activities by  Ya'axché’s Science Program into fire monitoring 

We can never be too prepared for a fire season, but having these capacity-building sessions is guiding Ya’axché’s fire team in the right direction. Hopefully, the detrimental impacts from this year’s fire season are minimal. In any case, the Ya’axché fire team will be on alert and prepared to take action for any fire ignited within the Maya Golden Landscape.  

Fire-related PPE: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Fire-related PPE: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Fire drill practice: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Fire drill practice: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Demonstration :Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Demonstration :Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Fire Management: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
Fire Management: Photo by Sayuri Tzul/Ya'axche
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Organization Information

Ya'axche Conservation Trust

Location: Punta Gorda, Toledo District - Belize
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @Yaaxche?lang=en
Project Leader:
Megan Lopez
Punta Gorda, Toledo District Belize
$3,158 raised of $12,000 goal
 
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