More than 16,500 hectares of forest go up in flames

More than 16,500 hectares of forest go up in flames

25 February 2015

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Argentina — Governor Martín Buzzi signed a decree yesterday declaring the area an emergency zone, allowing some 15 million pesos to be released in order to help those affected by the situation.

More than 100 firefighters have battled the flames over the past week, which has put several populated areas at risk as national and provincial authorities coordinated a response.

“An environmental emergency decree was signed this morning to confront this extremely complex situation, with extreme temperatures that did not get below 25 degrees and humidity that did not surpass 20 percent,” said Buzzi yesterday.

The governor planned to travel back to the area to accompany the 120 firefighters who have “put their heart into fighting the blaze,” he said. Buzzi, however, was pessimistic that the situation would improve in the next few days because the weather forecast predicted no change in conditions in the near future.

“This has affected 16,500 hectares already, native forests, thickets and shrubs,” stated the National Environmental and Sustainable Development secretary, which confirmed that the secretary’s Fire Brigade Jorge Barriomuevo had travelled to the area to start coordinating a response with provincial authorities.

Although eight planes, eight firetrucks and a helicopter have been sent to try to extinguish the focal points of the flame, low visibility and strong winds meant the aircraft had to remain grounded yesterday.

On Monday, the governor had arrived in the Cholila district to lead the Centre for Emergency Operations (COE). He highlighted that there were 120 men in the high mountain ranges and that 60 reinforcements had recently joined them.

“We are fighting hard to defend the population, residences and areas that rely on farming,” Buzzi said.

Local media reported that the fire was getting close to advancing toward Cholila, not only putting in danger its population but also large properties belonging to famous millionaires such as Techint CEO Paolo Rocca and Juanita De Narváez Stuer (Francisco De Narváez’s sister).

Forest fire’s origins

The fire began with a bolt of lighting that struck the region near Chubut’s border with Chile and Río Negro province — 10 kilometers from Los Alerces national park — claimed local officials. Due to the dry vegetation and weather conditions, the fire then rapidly spread, affecting 4,500 hectares.

Cholila mayor Valeria Campos said there was no doubt the fire was not the result of arson.

One of the problems encountered by firefighters combating the fire was the area’s geographical conditions claimed Chubut Civil Defence Director Evaristo Melo. “The largest difficulty is that its very hard to access the worst-hit areas by foot due to its topography,” Melo said.

Campos also said that that it had been several years since anyone had even accessed the remote areas that are being ravaged by fire.

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