Bolivia Looking to Curb Use of Fires for Land Clearance
August 18, 2010 - Latin American Herald Tribune

LA PAZ – Some 25,000 fires ignited by Bolivian peasants to clear land for planting have burned 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) in recent weeks and have caused airline flights to be suspended or delayed, officials said Tuesday.

Land management director Cliver Rocha expressed his concern at seeing the number of individual blazes go from 17,000 to 24,961 in less than three days.

"This is one of the biggest fire surges in recent years. The biggest occurred in 2004, when we had 50,000 covering 6 million hectares (15 million acres). Today we're halfway there and we haven't come to the hardest part of the year yet," Rocha said on Radio Erbol.

Thick columns of smoke Tuesday caused flights to be suspended or delayed in the cities of Trinidad, Guayaramerin, Riberalta and Cobija, media outlets said.

Rocha said that the biggest blaze is in the northern province of Pando, where flames have charred some 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) and are threatening the village of Puerto Rico and the Manuripi forest reserve.

Another serious conflagration occurred in the central province of Cochabamba, where a fire that began three days ago destroyed 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of Tunari National Park, located just 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from Cochabamba city.

Rocha warned that some wildfires originally ignited to clear land could take the nation to a catastrophic situation from the effects of smoke and ash on human health, apart from the economic losses caused by the fires.

Representatives of the farm sector and state institutions were to meet Tuesday to launch a campaign "to put out the fire" and promote a change in land-clearance practices.