When the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu were threatened by forest fires last September, firefighter Jessica Morón and her wildland firefighting team battled the flames to protect the historic sanctuary and its surrounding biodiversity.
Keeping forest fires under control is a battle that has become increasingly difficult. Just in the first half of 2020, the number of fires in Peru’s forests increased by 121%.
Jessica, who lives in the city of Cusco near Machu Picchu, has worked for Peru’s National Service for Protected Natural Areas for 15 years as one of about 200 park rangers trained in wildland firefighting.
Her Devoted Fans
While growing up, Jessica had always wanted to work in environmental conservation. Now, she has a dream job fighting forest fires that are a major threat to ecosystems, and a large source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Early in her career, Jessica found it challenging to juggle work and home responsibilities after her first child was born. The training she needed for her new job meant long days, so she had to leave her baby in the care of family. Today, her husband and three children are very supportive of her work.
Today, my children are my biggest fans,” Jessica said. “They know that I’m helping to make sure the animals and plants are okay, so when I come home from putting out a fire, they happily greet me.”
A New Perspective on Fighting Forest Fires
USAID has partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to help Peru improve the country’s operational wildland firefighting capacity by supporting planning, training firefighters, and developing fire prevention strategies.
Conservation and sustainable management of Peru’s forests and lands is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing people and nature’s resilience to climate change. Improving fire management is a natural climate solution that can reduce carbon emissions.
In 2018, when Jessica participated in USAID’s first International Fire Management Course alongside 30 other people, she learned a new approach to combating forest fires.
That course broadened our focus as a country, from suppression to a more comprehensive view that includes prevention and fire management,” Jessica said.
The next year, Jessica was selected to be an instructor for the second iteration of the course and was able to learn even more from the U.S. Forest Service instructors, reinforce her development, and return to her agency to share this approach.
Jessica Morón is the first woman to be an instructor of the South American International Fire Management Course. In 2018, she traveled to Arizona to participate in the Women in Fire Management leadership course, held every year by USAID and the U.S. Forest Service.
Some people still think that women can’t handle the physical strain and hard work involved in firefighting,” Jessica said.
“A few years ago, we had to battle two fires in one day. It was draining because of the rough terrain and the distance between one site and the other.
"When we finished with the second one, we were exhausted, but we still had to walk 20 kilometers at night—and we did it in high spirits! Gender doesn’t matter in firefighting; what matters is teamwork.”
Forest Fire International Standards
Massive forest fires like those seen in recent years in the Amazon have been made worse due to the effects of climate change. With support from USAID, the countries of the region are preparing to help one another. Firefighters are learning to follow international standards, with the same operating protocols, training, terms, concepts, and fire suppression philosophy, so they can work together more effectively. Peru is on its way to achieving this.
My country is working to train new firefighters, under different agencies. We need to learn to work together and speak the same language,” Jessica said.
“The challenge for me is to continue to help train the additional forest firefighters that Peru needs to safeguard its vast biodiversity.”
This blog was originally published on USAID Exposure.
About the Story
USAID and the U.S. Forest Service have been working together in Peru since 2010 to support the Government of Peru in the conservation and sustainable use of its forests.
Since 2015, USAID and the U.S. Forest Service have trained 150 people working for different agencies in Peru that combat wildfires. Of the 200 park rangers trained in wildland firefighting that safeguard Peru’s protected natural areas today, nearly 50 were trained directly through USAID courses.
In 2019 and 2020, with USAID and U.S. Forest Service support and under the leadership of Peru’s National Forest and Wildlife Service (SERFOR), a working group of agencies involved in wildland fire management developed a standardized training curriculum and qualifications system. This foundation for Peru provides standard operating procedures for all agencies involved in managing wildfires in Peru, and enables Peru to work with other countries in Latin America to address this growing challenge together.
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