NASA image created by Earth Observatory, using data provided courtesy of the Landsat Project Science Office.
Since 14 March 2005, at least two large fires have been burning in the Cordillera Central, the mountains that run down the spine of Hispaniola. The fires started in the José del Carmen Ariza National Park, on the lower reaches of Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic. The flames raced up the mountain, consuming the pine, palm, and broadleaf rainforests that grow at higher elevations. Local news reports say that more than 700 people have gathered to fight the flames, and the government is requesting firefighting airplanes from the United States.
The fires were still burning when Landsat 7 EMT+ captured this image on 21 March 2005. The newly burned mountain slopes are dark brown, while unburned forest is green. The image is a false-color image (opposed to a photograph-like image) created from light in the shortwave infrared, near infrared, and green wavelengths. The hot fire fronts glow red in the infrared bands, revealing the extent of the active fire on 21 March. Thick smoke, tinted blue in this image, rises from the fires.
The highest elevations of Pico Duarte where the fires are burning are covered with rare mountain cloud forests, rainforests that draw water from the clouds. Because the forests can take water directly from the sky, they play an important role in providing water to the Dominican Republic, particularly during the dry season, which runs from December to May. The headwaters of 17 of the countrys rivers can be found in the Cordillera Central. These rivers are used for drinking water, irrigation, and to produce energy.
In March 2005, the forests have been particularly prone to large fires. An unusually severe dry season dried the vegetation on Hispaniola, making the region susceptible to fire. Officials dont know how these fires started, but dry weather has probably contributed to the severity of the fires.
On 19 March a group of 70 firefighters and tourists were rescued unharmed, being trapped in the national park near Pico Duarte in the Cordillera Central, surrounded by forest fires.
On 21 March more than 700 persons were involved in extinguishing the fire. Nearby towns, such as Jarabacoa and Santiago started to be affected. Visits to the National Park were stopped. The origin of the fire has not yet been determined, but was started in the lowlands of Pico Duarte, José del Carmen Ariza National Park.
On 22 March the spread of the fire has been somewhat contained and now authorities are looking to Puerto Rico for a water bomber aircraft or helicopter which can douse the flames. There is little likelihood of rain on the next few days, according to the National Meteorological Office, resulting in very dry vegetation.
The dominican government also announced that at any moment an airplane from the U.S.A. could come and help in assisting in suppressing the fire. Additionally the Dominican Airforce would help in the incident. Up to now the suppression was very hard for the national helicopters and airplanes, due to the heavy smoke created.
On 23 March the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente informed that the forest fires are under control, thanks to the joined efforts of personell from this institution, the Armed Forces and Civil Defense. At the moment there are three fires burning simultaneously in areas of José del Carmen Ramírez and José Armando Bermúdez National Parks, specifically near Aguita Fría, La Compartición and La Laguna. Currently 400 persons are working in suppressing the fires, and on Wednesday, 24 March, 62 members of the National Army will join. Risks associated are the difficult topography and the fast changes of wind direction.
On 23 March 2005 the permanent mission of the Dominican Republic to the UN in Geneva contacted WMO and the GFMC requesting advice for additional foreign assistance in the management of the fire emergency. GFMC is in contact with UN-OCHA and governments of neighbouring countries.
Information taken from the following GFMC Media Updates: