Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (Comisión Nacional Forestal, Conafor) and the US Forest Service have signed an agreement aimed to ensure more efficient fire-fighting when dealing with wildfires on the border of Sonora/Arizona. The agreement, the Bi-national Convention on Forest Fires (Convenio Binacional de Incendios Forestales) is designed to increase public safety on either side of the border, reduce habitat loss, and facilitate the exchange of information about wildfires, leading to improved preventative measures and firefighter training.
The Convention establishes that when a fire is detected in the municipalities of Nogales, Naco, Agua Prieta or Santa Cruz, a united bi-national command can be established to ensure effective collaboration between the two countries’ firefighters. Firefighting brigades, together with supporting vehicles and aircraft, will be authorized to cross the border by up to 16 km (10 miles) in either direction when battling wildfires, provided they give prior notice to the relevant migration, security and customs agencies in the country concerned.
Mexico’s worst ever year for forest fires was in 1998, when 14,400 were recorded. In the past three years, 2011 was easily the most disastrous in terms of wildfires, with more than 12,000 fires reported:
- 2011 – 12,113 fires, affecting 956 square km
- 2012 – 7,170 fires, affecting 347 square km
- 2013 – 10,406 fires, affecting 413 square km
In 2013, 99% of wildfires were attributed to “human actions”, with 36% of all fires resulting from deliberate agricultural burn-offs getting out of control.
The main wildfire season is from February to May each year. May is the critical month because it marks the end of the dry season in most of Mexico, the time when the natural landscape looks parched. During May, as the landscape waits for the start of the rainy season, precursor electrical storms are relatively common. Electrical storms can easily trigger wildfires if they ignite the tinder-dry vegetation.