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July 24, 2017

Grass Fires in Central Brazil can result in Electrical Outages

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Central Brazil is in the midst of its annual dry season. The last rains usually occur sometime in May with the next summer rains starting sometime in September. During the intervening dry season, the temperatures are hot, the skies are sunny and the relative humidity is very low. These are perfect conditions for fires, both accidental and intentionally set.

The main cause of fires during the dry season is generally farmers burning off their pastures to encourage new green shoots of grass. Without burning off the dry vegetation, it is difficult for the cattle to get to any green vegetation. While burning may be an easy way to encourage new grass growth, it causes environmental problems and it poses a risk for the local population who may suffer from respiratory problems. Fires may also move into safrinha corn fields in the state that are now being harvested.

In addition to those problems, fires can also result in electrical outages. Fires burning under high tension electrical transmission lines often times result in temporary power outages. This is actually a common occurrence in states like Mato Grosso during the dry season.

In 2015, there were 9 such outages in the state caused by fires under high tension electrical transmission lines and the number jumped to 16 such outages in 2016. The weather during 2016 was exceptionally hot and dry in central Brazil, which is why there were probably more fires and resulting outages. Thus far in 2017, there have been two outages caused by fires.

Most of the outages occur in urban areas where more of the electrical transmission lines are located. These outage numbers do not include localized rural areas where just traditional electrical lines can be impacted as well.

Starting this past July 15th, all outdoor burning including pasture burning will be prohibited in the state of Mato Grosso until September 15th. If a farmer intentionally sets fire to his pasture between July 15th and September 15th, he may be fined from R$ 1,000 to R$ 7,500 per hectare (approximately $125 to $930 per acre) with the risk of imprisonment. In urban areas, the use of fire to clean areas around homes and business is prohibited year round.

The state government of Mato Grosso has launched their "Plan to Prevent and Combat Fires" with a R$ 3 million investment. In addition to prevention programs, they have positioned 18 military firefighting brigades in the state where fires are more prevalent. Included in these brigades are 1,400 firefighters, various firefighting equipment, including two airplanes and a helicopter in case they must fight forest fires.

This is also the time of the year when farmers harvest their safrinha corn and there will inevitable be some combine fires as well. Some suggestions on how to minimize accidental combine fires include: maybe avoid harvesting during the heat of the day, make sure the combine is well maintained and cleaned regularly, train operators on how to avoid fires, and keep a tank of water near where the corn is being harvested in case of fire.