Firefighters work for third week to contain fires in Bolivia

Latin America

Firefighters work for third week to contain fires in Bolivia

Brazil is not the only South American country battling raging wildfires. A large area of Bolivia is coping with vast fires burning out of control. Satellite images show an area nearly the size of Lebanon has gone up in flames.
CGTN’s Dan Collyns reports from Bolivia’s eastern region of Santa Cruz.

Plumes of smoke rise into the sky as forests burn in South America. This is not Brazil but rather it’s across the border in neighboring Bolivia.

As the eyes of the world have been fixed on the blazing Brazilian Amazon, Bolivia has also been burning for the last three weeks.

The focus of the fires has been in this unique dry forest and a swath of it has been destroyed across the country’s entire eastern flank.

In La Chiquitanía, the blazes have scorched the earth as far as the eye can see.

Environmental groups say satellite images show some 1.8 million hectares (more than 4.4 million acres) of dry forest, plains and farmland have burned.

A combination of slash and burn farming practices and high winds in the dry season created the perfect storm for a blaze of this scale.

Seventy-six-year old Hérnan Ramos has never seen anything like it before.

“There used to be just small fires, they were controlled…not like now,” Says Ramos, “These fires have surged in a way that there was no way of controlling them.”

Ramos says people have been suffering from eye and respiratory problems.

This team of volunteers and firefighters is resting after a long night on the fire line.

“It’s disastrous. You’re here breathing in this smoke. Imagine what it’s like for the people who live here,” says firefighter Captain Rudy Callau. “ Beyond that, combined with what has happened in the Amazon, the damage to the planet is terrible.”

Bolivian environmentalists say the fires are a direct result of a recent law which permits more slash and burn farming.

The government of President Evo Morales was accused of taking too long to call for foreign help.

International aid is now arriving from neighboring countries along with firefighters from as far away as Russia and France.