The Favela Fire Phenomenon

Fire in favela in Zona Sul in Sept 2012. Credit: Evelson de Freitas/AE

Fire in favela in Zona Sul in Sept 2012. Credit: Evelson de Freitas/AE

One afternoon in August 2012, when I was living in Campo Belo, I witnessed the sky quickly being invaded by thick black smoke. I ran inside as I could barely breathe. It turned out a favela nearby had caught on fire. This was not a unique event. For the next couple of months, the news would report a favela catching on fire at least once a week. Many people claimed these fires were occurring deliberately, that favela residents were taking advantage of the liberal aid provided by the government eager to secure votes in the upcoming elections. While this seemed to be hearsay, the fires stopped after the October elections.

A new documentary reveals that there have been over 1200 favela fires in the past 20 years, with about half occurring between 2008 and 2012. Limpam com Fogo (They Clean With Fire) interviews favela residents, urban planning experts, journalists and Mayor Fernando Haddad to figure out the root of this phenomenon. One interesting trend revealed is that the fires tend to occur in “valued” areas of the city, such as places where World Cup events are scheduled to occur. The more valuable the area, the higher number of favela fires were recorded.

The directors, who shot Limpam com Fogo as part of their final journalism project at PUC-SP (Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo), are trying to raise funds to finalize and release the film. Their Catarse page (similar to Kickstarter) outlines their project in detail and includes stunning photography by Rogerio Fernandes shot in Favela do Moinho. They also have a Facebook page with news and snippets of the film. I really hope this gets released.

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