Sunbathers Live with Fire in the Pantanal

Flames from historic fires are scary, but do not deter tourists

São Paulo and Manaus

It was close to 9 am when the family of the civil servant Álvaro Lima arrived at the Mutum stream, in the municipality of Santo Antônio do Leverger. On the road, they crossed dozens of kilometers of burnt areas.

Two hours later, the flames, which already consumed about 20% of the Pantanal, reached the opposite bank. But neither the Lima family nor the other sunbathers, about 20 residents, took their feet. In the sky, only the gray color of the ubiquitous smoke.

Shortly after noon, the inevitable happened. A spark crossed the stream and fell on a palm tree next to the picnic. A dry straw spread the fire on the dry vegetation.

Santo Antonio Leverger, MT. 19/09/2020 . ( Foto: Lalo de Almeida/ Folhapress )

"We will stay here until later. We traveled far, 140 km. Let's enjoy it and just move," Lima said. On the other side of the stream, eight Mantovilis plant employees appeared in the forest fighting the fire, using tree branches.

Some bathers were willing to help. With plastic bottles, they took water from the stream and threw it into the flames.

The quixotic effort helped to control the progress of the fire. Lima says that there are always fires in the region, made by farmers and riverside dwellers, but this time it was different. "This year, there was no control at all," he said.

"On the road, there was a swamp, you saw more than a thousand capybaras there together. We filmed, took pictures. Today, the dryness, the lack of rain, disappeared. The swamp has no water, no animal."

Several animals were rescued with burnt paws or exhausted from thirst and lack of food.

The fire postponed tourism's resumption in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso, paralyzed since March because of the epidemic of the new coronavirus. The restart may happen soon. After almost being hit by fire, the Sesc Porto Cercado hotel, the largest in the region, plans to reopen on October 9.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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