20 Aug 2010

Forest fires spark state of emergency in Bolivia

8:57 pm on 20 August 2010

A state of emergency has been declared in Bolivia as forest fires spread across the South American country.

Almost 25,000 fires have destroyed about 1.5m hectares of land and more than 60 houses, the BBC reports.

The worst of the destruction has taken place in Bolivia's Amazon and eastern regions, close to the country's border with Brazil.

Smoke from the fires has also delayed many flights and forced several airports to close for short periods.

President Evo Morales described the fires as "a natural phenomenon", despite explaining that they were mostly caused by farmers clearing land ahead of the planting season. He said they had lost control of them and the fires had spread rapidly.

Mr Morales admitted that his government could not fight the fires adequately because it lacked water-bombing aircraft.

He said he had requested help from neighbouring Brazil and Argentina.

Forecasts do not indicate rain in the next few days.