Paraguay airport back to normal operations as smoke from forest fires clears

Paraguay airport back to normal operations as smoke from forest fires clears

13 September 2007

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Asunción, Paraguay — The Paraguayan capital’s international airport resumed full operations Thursday as smoke from distant fires dissipated.

Officials had closed the Asuncion airport to all traffic on Monday and scaled back flights the next two days after the haze from thousands of small fires blew over this capital, combining with fog to reduce visibility.

Airport spokesman Hugo Aquino said that clearing on Thursday improved visibility from just 200 meters (yards) to about 1,000 meters (yards) — enough to allow normal landings and takeoffs.

Meanwhile, the government deployed water tanker planes to the regions of Villa Hayes, San Pedro, Concepcion and Amambay to combat the blazes.

Small farmers are suspected of setting many of the fires across this poor South American nation in recent weeks to clear land for soybean and cotton planting, environmental ministry investigator Jose Luis Casaccia said.

He estimated that some 600,000 hectares (1.4 million acres) of cropland and forest have burned in the past 40 days.

Authorities said a large Russian water tanker plane that can carry 41,000 liters (10,800 gallons) would arrive Friday to help fight the fires.

“The current situation is severe,” President Nicanor Duarte said Wednesday as he decreed a state of emergency in the four regions.

The Andean Development Corp., a lending group of 17 Latin American and Caribbean countries backed by private banks, said it will donate US$100,000 (€72,000) to firefighting efforts.

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