Disasters & Accidents

Wildfires rage in northeastern Argentina

Buenos Aires, Feb 18 (EFE).- Wildfires that have already devastated 550,000 hectares (1.36 million acres) of forest and marshland in the northeastern Argentine province of Corrientes continue to rage out of control, the region’s top official said Friday.

Months of high temperatures, low humidity and drought have created a “chaotic” situation, Gov. Gustavo Valdes told TN television.

“This is out of control. Today we are working with 12 airplanes, three helicopters, they are sending trucks, police, firefighters,” he said. “We have all of that and look at how things are.”

The number of separate fires burning in Corrientes increased overnight from eight to nine, according to the latest bulletin from the federal environment ministry.

Local and provincial authorities have detected a total of 7,000 fires since the middle of last month, Valdes said.

The national government has provided more than $1.8 million in funds to Corrientes to deal with the crisis, but the governor said that more will be required.

“Corrientes needs extraordinary aid due to the magnitude and the impact it is having on the growers, in the fields, on the ranchers, in the rice fields,” he said.

“We truly need extraordinary aid to be able to surmount this inferno, because this is something that never happened to us before,” Valdes said.

The head of civil defense operations in Corrientes, Orlando Bertoni, said that firefighters are battling exhaustion as well as the flames.

“In 22 years of command I have not seen so much fire and such a prolonged drought,” he told Canal Abierto Radio.

Firefighters may be forced to sacrifice forest and uncultivated land in order to protect homes, farms, ranches and manufacturing facilities, Bertoni said.

Without an official fire brigade, Corrientes has traditionally relied on volunteers, but the federal government says that arrangement is no longer viable.

“We urge the provinces to have fire departments. Volunteer firefighters don’t always have specific forest training,” Environment Minister Juan Cabandie said this week. EFE jacb/dr

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