ROBORE, Bolivia – The fight against forest fires in Bolivia’s Chiquitania region has raised a certain optimism among the nation’s authorities, who say that many of the blazes have been brought under control, though some that remain massive are principally moving toward the country’s borders with Paraguay and Brazil.
“Generally speaking the balance is positive,” Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta told EFE, adding that of the 7,000 critical points identified several days ago, “less than 20 percent” remain.
Areas where the vast blazes still persist are along the Rio Negro river, near the triple border between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay, surrounding the town of San Matias in Chiquitania and the Bolivian Chaco town of Charagua, located in the southeastern part of the country, Zavaleta said.
The minister added that much of the work this Tuesday will be dedicated to dousing the flames with a Boeing 747 Supertanker in order to stop them from spreading into Paraguayan territory.
There are reports from the triple border that this is “quite a large” fire that could take several days to control, Zavaleta said.
The strategy, which according to the defense minister has begun to work, consists of fighting the biggest fires with the Supertanker, the medium-sized ones with helicopters, and the smaller blazes by land with tanker trucks, soldiers and firefighters.
“The efforts of all our crews, by land or by air, have produced results, and we’re very hopeful that over the next few days the flames will be quenched even more,” the minister said.
Another thing that has helped were the heavy rains that fell close to San Matias, where the fires were in danger of growing fast.
The town of Robore in Santa Cruz province is the center of operations from which 3,400 police and army troops every day head for the most critical wildfires, which are a subject of daily reporting in Bolivia.
The out-of-control wildfires, spin-offs of the fires set my local inhabitants to prepare the land for planting crops, have found in the most recent drought and high winds the perfect allies for spreading their flames across an already dried-up Chiquitania area.
Despite the danger of the situation, the defense minister said “it has not been necessary” to evacuate any community and that despite it being known that over 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) have been razed by the flames, “not one person” has been injured.
Authorities of the Santa Cruz government said this weekend that the area burned by fires is less than 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres)
Zavaleta said Bolivia is ready to face a “new outbreak at any time, like the flames that broke out again over the weekend in Robore but were put out by helicopters, tanker trucks and firefighters on the ground.
The minister said Peru has come to the aid of Bolivia by sending two helicopters to join in the work, and that “talks are being held” with other countries that have expressed their wish to help Bolivia.
Tuesday is the 10th straight day the national government has played an active rose in controlling the flames after the government of La Cruz declared a regional emergency.
Bolivia’s Chiquitania region lies between the Chaco and the Amazon, and has evolved a woodland capable of withstanding a climate without rainfall for several months every year.
The area is iconic because for several centuries temples and Jesuit missions were built here that still survive and are considered among the best preserved in the Americas.