Forest fires continue to rage in Colombia. High temperatures, strong winds and drought do not give truce to a phenomenon that is not very common in a country with traditionally abundant rainfall. After a critical weekend, as of today, Tuesday, January 23, there are active outbreaks in five Colombian departments. El Niño phenomenon and some human errors have caused forest fires in areas of Boyaca, Huila, Santander, the city of Zipaquira and even in the eastern hills of the capital, Bogota.
At this moment, the Institute for Environmental Studies (IDEAM) has predicted a high probability of fires in 23 of the 32 departments of the country, especially in the Andean region and the Caribbean coast.
Similarly, at midday, the Secretary of the Environment of Bogota, Adriana Soto, indicated that, due to the conflagration in the mountains, the air quality in Bogota deteriorated in the northeast of the city and recommended the use of face masks. For the same reason, three schools located in the eastern sector were evacuated this morning to avoid the students’ health being affected.
After the major fire in Santander last weekend, since yesterday, Monday, several pockets of small fires have appeared in the eastern hills, the Andean chain that surrounds the easternmost part of the Colombian capital.
Bogota, a city located more than 2,600 meters above sea level, where the climate is temperate oceanic, is suffering the consequences of the drought of an atypical summer season. With little rainfall, the strangely clear skies make it easier for the sun’s rays to hit the capital with force. As a result, the abnormally high daytime temperatures are facilitating the appearance of fires, combined with the reckless actions of some citizens.
In Santander, fires are not giving firefighters a rest either. After controlling the outbreak on the road from Floridablanca to Piedecuesta, this morning, Governor Juvenal Diaz reported a new fire in the place known as Berlin Paramo. “At this hour a fire is registered in the Berlin Paramo. The emergency is being attended by firefighters from the municipality of Tona with support from Bucaramanga and Floridablanca, and the National Army. Protocols are initiated for helicopter support as soon as possible,” wrote the governor in his social networks.
Meanwhile, the first fatality of the fire wave has already been reported. It is Jacobo Roa, a 74 year-old senior citizen who was found with severe burns on his body by the relief agencies of the department of Boyacá in the village of Peñas de La Capilla.
According to Alvaro Rojas, mayor of the municipality, the authorities were alerted by the residents of the sector when they expressed their concern because this man was inside the house. According to the local mayor, the fire in Boyacá started precisely in the house of the deceased, due to a short circuit in the electrical system. The conflagration affected a total of 10 hectares of forest around the house.
This fire was brought under control after five hours; although it is not the most serious in terms of area burned, it is the one that has had the most tragic consequences, causing a man’s death.
Icon of Cristo Rey hill in Cali, in flames
Further south, in the department of Valle del Cauca, in the Colombian Pacific area, there are also several fires to lament. The first one originated in the afternoon and evening of yesterday, Monday at Km 3 Via al Mar. The affected area was approximately 5000 m² of burning grass and vegetation, with no injuries or material damage. The second one started in the Cristo Rey hill, in an important tourist sector of the departmental capital, Cali, due to a vehicle accidentally catching fire.
“Upon arrival of units to the site, the vehicle is totally incinerated and the fire was already affecting the vegetation cover of the hill in Cabuyal de Cristo Rey sector, therefore, more units have been deployed to the site upon the report of forest fire. A total of 21 units arrived at the site, a rescue engine, 3 tanks and a forest brigade”, informed the Cali Fire Department.
So far this year Cali Firefighters, with its forest brigade, have attended more than 23 forest fires in the city, a figure that, compared to last year, means an increase of 287%.
“These figures give us a warning bell of what can happen in the coming days. Although the fires that have occurred have not been complex, the high temperatures are rapidly drying the fuel,” said Sergeant Luis Alfredo Jordan, coordinator of the Cali Fire Operations Center.