Fires in Colombia have already destroyed 172 km2 of forest

Fires in Colombia have already destroyed 172 km2 of forest

Wildfires have destroyed 172 square kilometers in Colombia, more than 39% of Montreal's area, and around twenty outbreaks remain active, authorities said Friday.

The country, known for its biodiversity, has recorded more than 340 fires since November and 26 remain “active”, given the influence of the climate phenomenon El Niño with record heat and persistent drought, said Environment Minister Susana Muhammad on Friday afternoon.

Since Monday, Colombia has been battling several fires, including some in the Cordillera mountains above Bogotá, and authorities are recommending residents living near burned areas not to leave their homes due to poor air quality.

“Today we have a fire in the Nevado del Cocuy, a natural park with snow-capped peaks over 5,000 meters above sea level, about 250 kilometers northeast of Bogota,” Ms. Muhammad said during a news conference.

According to the minister, the flames are at a “fairly high” point in the park and the air force has sent a helicopter to “assess” the situation.

In the capital, one of the houses burned about 900 meters from El Paraiso, a popular neighborhood in eastern Bogotá. Some residents affected by the smoke were cared for by the Bogotá Red Cross, the organization said on X.

According to the Environment Secretariat, the air quality in several parts of the city of eight million inhabitants varies from “poor” to “average”.

Bogota Mayor Carlos Fernando Galán is conducting an assessment to determine whether the fires require “restrictive measures” on travel.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro declared a state of “natural disaster” on Wednesday and released resources to deal with the emergency situation.

He also appealed for international help to fight the fires.

Although the United States, Peru, Chile and Canada have answered the call, only the Peruvian government has so far sent “200” systems with a “special mechanism for extinguishing fires,” according to the Colombian Defense Ministry.

Traffic at Bogotá's El Dorado International Airport has returned to normal since Friday, the day after restrictions affected 138 flights.

According to Ghislaine Echeverry, director of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (Ideam), “January is shaping up to be the hottest January” in 30 years.

According to them, even higher temperatures could occur in February, and only in March the rains would help “mitigate” the consequences of this extreme heat.

Authorities are investigating whether some of the fires were intentional. Police arrested 26 people for “fire crimes.”