Incendio Forestal
(Forest Fire)
31" x 32", oil on canvas.

Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay

The Mayan use the slash and burn method of farming. When not careful a farmer can start a fire on his mountain plot which then gets out of control. Usually the fires burn themselves out, but under certain conditions they can become forest fires, like this painting by Lorenzo. When I asked him about this painting Lorenzo told me that this was the way they fought forest fires when he was young. The men of the whole town would mobilize and move to the fire. Sometimes it would be necessary to spend several days at the site to put out the fire. The fire in the painting has to be a fairly large fire—there are a lot of men fighting it and they have set up a camp, and there are a lot of animals fleeing including deer and wild boars. In the camp three men rest. One is drinking a hot liquid, probably coffee or atol. Another man is roasting a bird on a stick and a dead deer hangs from a tree. Behind these men we see what appear to been new arrivals—three men with supplies on their backs, relief and help for those already there.

The men fighting the fire create fire breaks with two tools, the adz and machete, the same two tools they use to farm. Two men carry water gourds on their back. Unless a fire occurs during the rainy season when the arroyos were full, an unlikely time for a forest fire, water would be transported from the lake or nearby stream, and that walk could take a considerable time. Some or all of the water brought up could be for consumption of the fire fighters.