Bolivia wildfires expected to break records

Controlled burns rage wildly, fanned by drought and wind

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    A local helps to extinguish a forest fire that jumped a controlled burn area [Getty]

    For the farmers of Bolivia, September signals the beginning of the planting season. In order to prepare their fields, it is a common practice for farmers to use a technique called "slash and burn". This involves cutting and burning forests or woodlands to create fields.  

    However, this technique has gone horribly wrong. An ongoing drought across the region, coupled with high winds, has caused these fires to spread uncontrollably into the forests. Over 40,000 fires are now burning across millions of acres of the nation’s heartland.

    Around the city of Santa Cruz, located 550 kilometres to the southeast of the capital of La Paz, farmers are fleeing their ranches in fear that more strong winds will bring the destructive wildfires to their fields and livestock. 

    Doctors and pediatricians are reporting a 30% increase in cases of respiratory illnesses, due to the heavy smoke which is lingering over the area. The most susceptible are the young and elderly.

    Forest fires are not uncommon in Bolivia. In 2010, the government declared a state of emergency last August when the number of fires jumped from 17,000 to over 25,000 in just three days. Over 3.7 million acres were lost as well as nearly 60 homes. This year's fires have already broken last year's record, and are on course to break the all-time record of 2004, when 50,000 fires were recorded.

    Local government officials are vowing to raise fines for uncontrolled burns. Even though yearly wildfires are common, the country is poorly equipped to handle them due to insufficient water-bombing aircraft.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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