Santa Cruz: Fires affect 600,000 hectares and smoke reaches the capital

The Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, the largest and most affluent in the country, woke up this Tuesday full of smoke from forest fires that have so far destroyed nearly 600,000 hectares in various parts of that department.

A red sun and gray clouds were part of the landscape that could be seen that morning in Santa Cruz, the capital of the region of the same name, as a result of the fires that had been going on for several weeks.

Nine parishes of Santa Cruz remain in distress due to the forest fires, which are registered at 21 points in the department, said Yovenka Rosado, the chief of the fire department of the governor of Santa Cruz, at a press conference.

So far, 597,459 hectares have been affected by the fire in Santa Cruz, with the communities of San Matías, San Rafael, San Ignacio de Velasco and Charagua being the places “with the highest concentration of fire sources,” said Rosado.

The fires reached the sanctuaries of San Matías, Otuquis, Valle de Tucabaca, Laguna Concepción, Valles Cruceños, Ñembiguazu, Orquídeas del Encanto and San Ignacio, he warned.

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According to Rosado, the most recent fire was recorded in a sanctuary in Otuquis National Park on the border with Brazil and Paraguay, where technical assistance and financial resources are being provided to fight the fire.

Numbers and Actions

The early warning system for forest fires in the Santa Cruz province registered “65 sources” on this day, so that the number accumulated so far in August has increased to 4,894 and since January to 19,618.

According to this system, “73% of the department is extremely at risk of forest fires given the climatic conditions, the drought in the forest, the above-average winds and the high temperatures we have,” added Rosado.

The government has deployed brigades to the communities where the fires are registered to work with volunteer firefighters, the military, community officials and ranchers.

The extent of the fires will be determined by “reconnaissance overflights” coordinated with the Bolivian Air Force (FAB) and drones will also be used where aircraft cannot, said Rosado.

Once a strategy to deal with the emergency is established with the municipalities, the central government will be asked for assistance with a Super Puma helicopter to “conduct an air strike” in the areas where there is a need to fight the fire in that area in a manner , he added.

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Rosado asked the population for help to prevent the fires, as there is a “burnout” among the staff, some of whom she has been fighting for two months.

The officer regretted that the firefighters have not yet been withdrawn because the fire is choking in one place and new fireplaces are immediately appearing in other places.

He also called on “legal authorities” to carry out “calculations” in order to uncover the causes of the fires and “set a precedent in this matter”.

In 2019, the fire destroyed almost five million hectares in the country and was considered one of the worst ecological disasters in the last decade, as it also affected protected areas such as natural parks with high environmental value.

In 2020 the number was reduced by 62% and a “natural disaster” was declared to provide aid.

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