Fires Threaten Bolivia's Famed Jesuit Missions Region

Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz - Bolivia's Tropical Region

Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz - Bolivia's Tropical Region

Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz - Bolivia's Tropical Region
Jesuit Mission Cathedral at Concepción
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An unprecedented number of forest fires are burning in the northern and eastern Departments of Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Over 2000 hot spots have been detected in the past few days. Slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques, coupled with very high winds normally experienced in August, are the cause in an area that has experienced drought over the past few weeks. Over 5000 fires have been recorded in this vast region so far this year.


There has been an alarming increase in the number of forest fires over the past few days which have resulted in the destruction of homes and communities. The Government of Santa Cruz has sent provisions, equipment, and volunteers to help fight the fires. According to the latest report from the SATIF (Forest Fire Alert System) there are 595 forest fires burning in 11 provinces of Santa Cruz at this time.

Fires in Bolivia's Chiquitania region (famous for its historical Jesuit Missions towns, a major Bolivian tourist attraction) are not yet under control in Guarayos, San Ignacio de Velasco and Concepción. A forest reserve called Orquídeas del Encanto, known for its dozens of unique varieties of orchids, also threatens to burn.

The government of Santa Cruz has sent food, cooking utensils, mattresses and other provisions for families near the community of Candelaria in the municipality of San Ignacio de Velasco who lost their homes to one fire. The mayor of San Ignacio de Velasco also sent a cistern with water and more firefighting volunteers. In the Guarayo community of Cachuela, 16 kilometers from Yotaú at least thirty homes have been consumed by the flames so far.

San Matías has declared a state of emergency. After San Ignacio de Velasco, which is preparing to declare a state of emergency itself, it is the second most affected province. A fire in the Agua Dulce zone of Samaipata is now under control.


The Jesuit Missions towns of the Chiquitos region (declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity sites in 1990 by UNESCO) are a series of indigenous towns established nearly 500 years ago by Spanish Jesuit missionaries. They are known for their immense and elaborately decorated cathedrals, music schools and choirs, high-quality handcrafts, and International Baroque and Renaissance Music Festival which takes place simultaneously in more than 20 towns over a 10-day period with the participation of dozens of international orchestras and choirs. It attracts hundreds of tourists every two years. Concepción is home to the International Orchid Festival which takes place every year in October. Samaipata was declared a UNESCO Cultural Heritage of Humanity site in 1998.


The flames advance in Pando, Bolivia's tiny northern-most department, and in Beni, which borders Santa Cruz to the North. According to the SAT (Early Alert System) in Beni, 1450 fires are burning due to the indiscriminate clearing of forests. This is a record high that could have serious consequences due to both air and water contamination.

Luis Phillips, head of the Beni government's SAT, indicated fires had been reported in El Carmen, and in the area of Sacrificio, where intense winds were causing flames to advance dangerously near communities and homes. Another serious fire in Puerto Cabinas, near the Beni River, has not yet been controlled.

Pando is reporting fires in the Manuripi-Heath Protected Area. Fires are burning out of control in various points of this forest reserve according to Pando government sources.

Source: El Deber
Date: Sunday 15 Aug. 2010
Map source: Unknown

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