These weren’t the only fires that burned around the world in the past year. Several countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Russia, and the US, experienced raging wildfires. Collectively, the blazes—some started by lightning, others by people—cost lives, destroyed millions of acres, released billions of tons of greenhouse gases, killed countless wild animals, and upset the balance of nature, even in places where fires are a normal part of the ecosystem. Many scientists worried that the impacts of some fires were irreversible, tipping already fragile ecosystems past the ecological point of no return.
The economic impacts on local people were profound, too. “Some rural and Indigenous communities watched their entire livelihoods burn,” says Blancard. “Many depend on sustainable forest products or timber. The fires were devastating on a level that’s hard for outsiders to understand.”
Among all these fires, the ones in the Amazon and Australia stood out. Though burning through different habitats and for different reasons, these blazes were staggering in the scale of destruction they caused, as well as in the outpouring of support they inspired. “People saw images of these iconic places burning,” Blancard says. “They wanted to help.”
As a global organization with a presence in the countries experiencing these disasters, WWF felt compelled to act—and fast. Emergency funds were quickly established to bring desperately needed resources—food, water, medical supplies, firefighting equipment—to the people and wildlife affected by the smoke and flames. And the help flooded in.
In a short time, thanks to generous donations from more than 3,300 people, roughly 30 companies, and several foundations, WWF-US raised nearly $2 million for the Emergency Amazon Fire Fund. And every cent went directly to partners and local communities on the front lines in Brazil and Bolivia.
Stephen J. Luczo, a former WWF-US Board and current National Council member, and his wife, Agatha, were among the campaign’s first contributors—and among a small group of early partners who supported WWF’s capacity to coordinate our response, allowing all other donations to go where they were needed most. “The Amazon is one of the world’s last great frontiers,” says Luczo, “home to millions of species and critical to regulating our planet’s oxygen and carbon cycles. It was unfathomable that WWF should sit on the sidelines in the face of this crisis—and we wanted to offer our strong support to WWF.”
WWF-US Board member Matthew Harris also answered the call with support from the Bedari Foundation, which he founded. “These were environmental crises of epic proportions,” he says, “and WWF was uniquely positioned to harness its field expertise and powerful network to meet the moment, mobilizing fundraising and technical resources on the ground.”
A few months later, WWF-Australia set up the Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund and issued a call for US$20 million in emergency donations. Scores of people around the world contributed, surpassing that goal within months. WWF-US channeled more than $6.8 million to the fund, which is addressing the urgent needs of people and wildlife, supporting the recovery of critical habitats, and helping Australia prepare for future emergencies.