Fires in Bolivia

Fires in Central South America

23 September 2005

Comments of the GFMC on the situation in Bolivia:

The current situation in Bolivia is quite comparable with previous fire episodes in Bolivia and neighbouring countries of Central South America. Such large-scale burnings (queimadas) and escaped widlfires in the Amazon rainforest region are all human-induced – and are occuring in the tropical lowland forest environment which is not adapted to fire at all. As people use slash-and-burn methods to create new farmland (land-use change), the impacts are felt far beyond the location of the fire. The smoke inhibits cloud formation and rainfall or causes the rain  to come down in heavier outbursts. Fires also escape control and invade managed timber plantations, undisturbed forest, and permanent agriculture.
These kinds of events have been monitored repeatedly, e.g. on15 September 2004:
On 23 September 2005 the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, supported by GFMC and the Global Wildland Fire Network, attempt to initiate a situation assessment for possible foreign fire-response support to Bolivia.

Current Media Information:

Bolivia declares scorched section of Amazon disaster area

The Bolivian government issued a disaster declaration for the Amazonian region of the provinces of Beni and Pando, on the border with Brazil, destroyed by a fire that consumed more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of forest in the past two weeks.

The disaster declaration opens the way for disbursement of special funds to help deal with the economic effects of the fire and drought on the region.

The decision to declare the fire zone a disaster area was made Wednesday during a meeting between President Eduardo Rodriguez and his Council of Ministers, presidential spokesman Julio Pemintel said.

For months, the two provinces have been suffering from the most severe drought in 19 years.

The Beni governor’s office said the fire, which is burning near the town of Riberalta, was starting to be brought under control.

The fire affected an area inhabited by some 600 families and destroyed 11 houses.

Nearly 56 fires are still burning in Beni, where some 500 soldiers and volunteers are working with limited equipment to put them out, officials said.

All flights in Beni have been suspended due to the heavy smoke covering the region.

The government, meanwhile, is weighing whether to issue a disaster declaration for the section of the Andean province of Potosi affected by heavy snows that caused extensive crop damage, Pemintel said.

(source: EFE NEWS SERVICE Date: 23 September 2005)

Huge fire burns Bolivia’s Amazon

LA PAZ — A massive fire is burning in the Amazon forests of northern Bolivia, fed by drought in the region and high winds, officials said Wednesday.

Hundreds of emergency workers and soldiers have been fighting the blaze for six days, but it has already devoured 150,000 hectares (370,650 acres) and blanketed vast swathes of the country in smoke, forcing airports to close.

The inferno is spreading, and could roar back to life in areas where it has been brought under control, said Marco Antonio Justiniano, commander of the Bolivian Armed Forces.

“If it doesn’t rain soon, we run the risk that the wind will reignite the hot ashes,” Justiniano warned.

Officials also fear that the fire is destroying the source of livelihood for many residents of the impoverished Latin American country — trees harvested for nuts or timber, pastureland and headwaters of rivers that are a lifeblood for communities in the area.

Seventeen Indian communities have been evacuated, and 500 families have been rescued, officials said. Beni Department northeast of La Paz is hardest hit.

Residents of Riberalta, the largest town of Bolivia’s Amazon region, with a population of 100,000, reported respiratory problems, and the airport there was closed because smoke cut visibility.

Smoke was causing similar problems in the city of Santa Cruz, some 800 kilometers (500 miles) south.

Interim President Eduardo Rodriguez called a special meeting of his cabinet to discuss the crisis.

(source: Agence France-Presse English Wire Date: 21 September, 2005)

Latest MODIS Scene:

A pall of smoke backs up against the Andes Mountains in South America from hundreds, possibly thousands of fires burning in the heart of the continent on 22 September 2005.

22 September 2005
14:55 hrs UTC
(Image courtesy MODIS)

True colour: Bands 1-4-3

False Colour: Bands 7-2-1

The fires, most of which are likely intentional fires set by people to clear rainforest or maintain agricultural land, have been detected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite and have been marked with red dots in the image.

For further information see also:

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