25,000 Fires Smother Bolivia in Smoke

Over 25,000 hot spots have been detected, and 1.5 million hectares of forest and brush have burned in 4 Bolivian states as a result of slash-and-burn forest clearing techniques in the past week. Airports throughout Eastern and parts of Central Bolivia have suspended flights. Two national forest reserves are also burning.

Forest fires in the Villa Tunari region of Cochabamba (Bolivia's prime coca growing region) have burned approximately 500-1000 hectares of forest in Tunari National Park and some flights from Cochabamba have been suspended due to low visibility.

Flights are also suspended to and from Cobija, the capital city of Bolivia's tiny northernmost state of Pando, where numerous hot spots threaten the Manuripi-Heath National Park.

In the northeastern state of Beni hundreds of fires have paralyzed flights to and from Riberalta, Guayaramerín and other towns as well. Flights to and from Trinidad have resumed.

The country's largest state, Santa Cruz, has declared a state of emergency. Here rural indigenous families have lost their homes, crops and livestock in numerous fires that are raging uncontrolled through the Guarayos and Chiquitania areas.

Some fires are very near to some of the region's famed Jesuit Missions towns which this weekend, will celebrate "Festivales de Temporada" (seasonal barroque music and theater festivals that take place in various towns simultaneously and attract many tourists). Coordinator say the festivals, featuring orchestras and choirs, are slated to continue. The Viru Viru airport has suspended numerous flights as well.

The three most endangered areas at this time are in Guarayos (Santa Cruz) where numerous families have lost their homes; Puerto Rico (in Pando) near the Maruripi Forest Reserve; and Tunari National Park (in Cochabamba).

The city of Santa Cruz is covered in a dense smoke and a red alert has been issued. Schools have been instructed not to allow children outside for physical education classes, and hospitals are already seeing an increase in patients with respiratory problems, allergy flare-ups, asthma conditions, and conjuctivitis (pink eye).

August is typically the driest and windiest month of the year in the northern and eastern tropics and plains. Portions of Santa Cruz also experienced a drought over the past few weeks, a combination of factors make it more difficult to control these fires. Environmental authorities stated in a press conference today that the levels of smoke and the number of fires burning are both at record highs this year.

Slash-and-burn forest clearing is illegal in Bolivia. The fine is only 20 cents (of a U.S. dollar) per hectare burned.

Source 1

Source 2: Televised news casts and press conferences 18 Aug. 2010

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