Fire Blocking Access to Punta del Este, Uruguay Under Control

Fire Blocking Access to Punta del Este, Uruguay Under Control

3 January 2009

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Uruguay — A forest fire that was preventing tourists from reaching Uruguay’s coastal resorts, including the upscale vacation spot of Punta del Este, has been brought under control, although firefighters and the military were still working to extinguish the blaze completely, officials said.

The fire, which began on Friday, was brought under control after several hours of work with the help of air force hydro-helicopters and heavy machinery provided by the regional government of Canelones, Uruguay’s second-largest province.

“The fire has nearly been extinguished, but we’re working to completely put out the embers to prevent it from reigniting due to the strong winds,” firefighters’ spokesman Carlos Nicola said.

Some 50 Uruguayan firefighters and military soldiers were working uninterruptedly to put out the blaze, which had burned 60 hectares (150 acres) of forest.

The fire started near the Balneario Argentino resort, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Montevideo, and made it difficult for travelers to drive to Punta del Este, the country’s most famous tourist destination.

National Fire Department teams, with the assistance of the military, worked for more than 24 hours on Thursday and early Friday to prevent the blaze from spreading to nearby homes.

The cause of the fire is being investigated by fire department technicians, but authorities said it was presumably started by an area resident.

It did not damage any area homes but it raged along both sides of the Interbalnearia, a road that leads to Uruguay’s eastern coast, and drivers’ visibility was affected by the large plumes of smoke.

That road is heavily traveled at this time of year, the start of the summer holiday season in the South American country; highway police said that between 1,500 and 1,800 vehicles per hour passed through its toll booths on Wednesday and Thursday.

Uruguay is suffering from one of its worst-ever droughts and authorities in recent days have repeatedly reminded people that building fires for cooking or burning garbage is prohibited due to the risk of forest fires.

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