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State of emergency declared in Santander and Cundinamarca as fires ravage Colombian forests

State of emergency declared in Santander and Cundinamarca as fires ravage Colombian forests

Colombia has declared a state of emergency in Santander and Cundinamarca, including the capital Bogota, as dozens of forest fires consume about 600 ha (1 483 acres) of land, fueled by record temperatures linked to the El Nino weather phenomenon.

On January 24, 2024, the government declared a state of emergency in two crucial regions: Santander and Cundinamarca, the latter housing the nation’s capital, Bogota. These fires, consuming approximately 600 ha (1 483 acres) of forest, are linked to record temperatures influenced by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

The National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD) reports that, despite efforts to extinguish hundreds of fires this month, 25 major fires are still active. The emergency declaration in the affected regions aims to swiftly mobilize resources to mitigate the adverse impact on natural resources, as stated by Cundinamarca Governor Jorge Emilio Rey.

Over half of Colombia’s municipalities are now on Red alert due to the threat posed by these fires. In Bogota, residents have witnessed white columns of smoke rising from the surrounding mountains, prompting many in the commercial districts to don masks against the thick haze and ash.

The situation reached a critical point on Tuesday, January 23, with nine towns across northern, central, and eastern Colombia recording temperatures as high as 40.4 °C (105 °F). The fires have led to a “significant deterioration” in air quality in Bogota, a city of around eight million people. Wildlife, including coatis, porcupines, birds, and frogs, have been driven to seek shelter in urban areas due to the raging fires.

Efforts to control the fires have seen the deployment of the Colombian Army and volunteers, who are clearing unburned brush to prevent further spread. However, the challenge persists, with some hotspots reigniting at night due to high winds and altitude, as described by Army member Gustavo Andres Betancourt.

References:

1 Colombia declares emergency over raging forest fires – AFP – January 25, 2024

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