Wildfires devastate thousands of hectares of land in Bolivia

Wildfires devastate thousands of hectares of land in Bolivia
Wildfires devastate thousands of hectares of land in Bolivia

This year, fires have destroyed about 150,000 hectares of forests and meadows in the Bolivian lowlands, authorities said. Firefighters battled scattered fires in eastern Santa Cruz last week.

Fires are spreading through communities in the Amazon and Chaco regions of Bolivia, which are part of Latin America's two largest transnational forests, where clearing of land for pasture, planting and human settlements is common.

Juan Carlos Calvimontes, Deputy Minister of Civil Defense, said that almost all fires were caused by human fault and that those responsible would have to pay the costs of extinguishing them.

"Almost 90 percent of fires are caused by people, they do not start on their own," he said in an interview with local television.

Crews of soldiers, firefighters and volunteers have taken control of the fires that began last week, exacerbated by strong winds and sultry temperatures, thanks to the support of water-dropping planes.

A civil defense ministry report says the number of hot spots that determine active fires has dropped from 800 to 170 over the past week. There have been no reports of property damage or casualties, the ministry added.

Bolivia recorded the worst bushfires in its history in 2019, when flames destroyed more than 6.4 million hectares of rural land, according to the Bolivian Center for Documentation and Information.

This year, there were fewer wildfires - which dominate the southern hemisphere in winter from May to early August - with 156,799 hectares of burned land recorded, up from 404,527 hectares in the same period in 2020.

Currently, the most affected area is the hot and semi-arid forested region of Chiquitania, located between the Amazon and Chaco. The area is home to indigenous communities as well as rich biodiversity and wildlife including jaguars, caimans and snakes.

“The sad thing is that every time an arsonist starts a fire, it destroys nature, a habitat where thousands of species of animals feed and live,” said Jerjes Suarez, a veterinarian in Roborre, one of the affected cities, holding a turtle in his arms. Chaco, who barely escaped the flames.