Bolivian officials call for stronger action to battle Amazon fires

World Today

Bolivia’s president says crews battling fires in the Amazon will soon get help from a Russian firefighting plane, but strong winds are continuing the spread the blazes. Local officials are calling for stronger action. CGTN’s Dan Collyns has details.

Wildfires burning unabated in Bolivia. Firefighting efforts continue in remote parts of the country’s east. More than 2,000 firefighters have been mobilized, as well as helicopters deployed along with one much larger aircraft – thanks to help from the United States.

One of the world’s largest firefighting aircraft, the supertanker was the first to arrive in Bolivia. This converted Boeing 747 can carry more than 18,000 gallons of water in one flight and makes several during the course of a day. Along with help from Bolivia’s neighbors, this plane is gradually starting to put out the flames.
Bolivia’s president, who is also running for a fourth term in office, spent the week visiting the fire-affected zone and with no end in sight to the fires, he announced the arrival of another big plane:

“In four to five days the Russian aircraft IL-79 will arrive,” said President Evo Morales. “It can lift 50,000 liters of water. I have information that the U.S. Supertanker lifts 75,000 liters, almost the same as the Russian firefighting plane.”

But Morales has also faced criticism for his initially slow reaction to the crisis and for refusing to rollback a new policy, approved just last month, that quadruples the area of forested land farmers are allowed to burn. Others are outraged over Morales’ reluctance to declare a national state of emergency – which they say is critical to attracting more foreign aid.

“We call on our president to declare a national disaster,” said Roly Aguilera, the Secretary General of Santa Cruz. “It is not a time to think about himself, it’s time to think about our country, particularly about Santa Cruz which is part of Bolivia and right now we are burning.”

Help is getting to the worst affected areas but the fires, fueled by strong winds, continue to spread.