The latest update on the forest fire situation in Colombia includes the formal declaration of a disaster and a request for international assistance. The government approved the declaration through a decree on January 25. Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Chile, and Peru, have responded positively to Colombia’s request for collaboration in extinguishing the fires. However, the exact intervention schedule has not yet been clarified.
The outlook is concerning as the fires show no signs of stopping, and new outbreaks continue to emerge daily. This situation is entirely anomalous, characterized by a severe drought and high daytime temperatures, attributed to minimal cloud cover. According to the latest report from the National Disaster Risk Management Unit (UNGRD), the fires have already consumed over 7,400 hectares of vegetation.
In the capital, Bogotá, there is also concern about air quality due to the fires that continue in the eastern hills.
Bogota’s air quality
Bogota and its metropolitan area exceed 10 million citizens, so the concern of the authorities is evident in view of the worsening air quality.
“In the coming days, an increase in PM 2.5 (particulate matter) concentrations is expected. This rise can be attributed to various factors, including the impact of forest fires in Cundinamarca, emissions from the city, and meteorological conditions, particularly thermal inversions, weakening winds, and shifts in wind direction,” stated a source from the capital’s government in its report yesterday.
PM 2.5 are very small particles in the air that have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or even smaller. This is less than the thickness of a human hair. Particulate matter is harmful to health, being one of the U.S. EPA’s six criteria air pollutants. It contains a mixture of organic chemicals, such as dust, soot and metals. These particles can come from automobiles, factories or, as is the case, wood burning.
While two days ago, the risk for PM 2.5 was low in 10 stations and moderate in 7, today the panorama has changed and the risk is somewhat higher in most of the capital, according to the Ministry of the Environment.
Second fire and aerial effects
On Wednesday, January 24, a second fire started on El Cable hill. According to the mayor of Bogota, Carlos Galan “the situation is complex” as the winds have had a strong effect and separated the fire on two sides. However, thanks to the work of the extinguishing teams, the fire has not crossed over the road that separates the hill from the houses closer to the mountain.
It is also the case that at the top of this hill are installed television and radio antennas that, for now, have not suffered any damage and continue to operate normally.
The smoke from these fires in the capital is also hampering the operation of El Dorado airport, where there were delays yesterday, although the operational service of flights has been normalized. The dense fog caused the airport to operate with restrictions, although today Aeronáutica Civil reported that the air quality “has improved significantly”.
Less than one third of fires under control
According to the authorities, there are 31 active fires in 9 departments of the country. Out of these, only 9 are in the control phase. This represents slightly less than a third of the total. Thanks to the disaster declaration, the government has more room for extraordinary economic resources to combat the fires. Up to this point, the state has already expended nearly half of the country’s $508 million allocated to address issues such as forest fires.
The most concerning areas are located in the eastern hills and El Cable in Bogotá. Additionally, there are fires in Nemocon (Cundinamarca) and the Berlin Paramo (Santander), which is a part of the complex Santurban páramo. This páramo is essential for supplying drinking water to northeastern Colombia.
Over 600 soldiers, accompanied by aircraft and vehicles, have been dispatched to the emergency zones. Colombian police are conducting water transportation and using planes to apply chemicals to illegal crops, like coca leaves.