Fires in the Peruvian Amazon

Far less research has been done in the Peruvian Amazon on all aspects of fire use and damage than in the eastern Amazon, particularly Brazil. The wetter conditions and less marked seasonality that generally prevail in western Amazon could be expected to limit the danger of spreading fires (Bush et al. 2008). However, extensive clearing of humid forests for cultivation and pasture especially along the eastern slope of the Andes have undoubtedly increased the vulnerability of the region to escaped fires. The strong drought of 2005 set in motion conflagrations that burned over more than 300,000 ha of forests in the Brazilian state of Acre as well as extensive areas in neighboring parts of Peru, making them more susceptible to fire in future dry seasons and produced economic losses of more than $50 million (Brown 2006) in Acre alone.

In the same years, according to government estimates, more than 22,000 ha burned in one province (Coronel Portillo, in the Ucayali region of Peru); a significant area but probably a very serious underestimate. Of the officially recognized burned area, about 16,000 ha were in forest, more than 5,000 in pasture, and the rest were fruit plantations, manioc fields, banana gardens, and the villages and homes of farming families (Gobierno Regional de Ucayali 2006). Although the 2005 drought was indeed an exceptional one, droughts of similar magnitude have occurred in the western Amazon in 1926, 1983, and 1998, with far lesser impacts on forests and people.

Proportion of 23 climate models that show a decline in rainfall between 1980-1999 and 2080-2099 under a midrange global greenhouse gas scenario (A1B). (Image from Malhi et al. 2008).