A new fire command and control center has opened in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve with the support of The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the National Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The fire control center is part of a multi-faceted fire management approach in the 1.8 million-acre reserve in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula ’s Maya Forest.
Because the reserve headquarters are in a remote village without Internet connections, this fully equipped command and control center located eight miles from reserve headquarters is especially important for firefighters and dispatchers to review satellite images. A radio communications network also was established to quadruple the previous radio communication coverage for fire prevention and detection teams. This network covers the entire Calakmul Biosphere Reserve as well as adjacent state reserves and communally-owned properties.
The center’s Internet, phone and radio connections are helping staff improve fire detection, management and suppression throughout the reserve. A formal inauguration ceremony was held March 20 at the onset of the dry season. In addition to a public ribbon-cutting, center staff conducted a successful test of radio communications among a dispatcher in the center, the airplane conducting a fire detection flyover and the control towers within the reserve.
Also as part of the project, a team of fire technicians from state, federal and municipal agencies—along with staff from local partner Pronatura Peninsula Yucatán, the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and the Xpujil Regional Indigenous Council—has been formed and is receiving training by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and mentoring in both theoretical firefighting techniques and practical, on-the-ground experience. This brigade now operates out fire command center in the town of Xpujil , to complement CONAFOR brigades.
The team has had its first opportunities to put training into practice since the opening of the command center when two fires recently broke out on the western border of the reserve. The crew successfully extinguished both fires without incident.
“The trainees showed remarkable skill in putting out one fire,” said Ann Snook, the Conservancy’s Maya Forest Program Manager. “The crew not only had to fight the fire in the forest, they also had to dig up tree roots that were burning underground to make sure the fire was completely extinguished. They did an amazing job.”
The Conservancy facilitated development of an integrated fire management plan—which considers that some fires can be damaging while others fires are beneficial, depending on the ecological and socio-economic factors present in the area—for the entire reserve. In the next phase of the project, Pronatura will lead an effort to develop individual fire management plans for three key communities bordering on the reserve or partially within the reserve boundaries. These communities are important because of their proximity to the reserve’s northern and southern core zones, and to the border with Guatemala , whose adjacent Maya Biosphere Reserve forms a part of the larger Maya Forest ecoregion.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.