25 Nov 2016

Wildfires rage across drought-stricken Peru

5:40 pm on 25 November 2016

Wildfires have torn through more than 22,000 hectares of forest, protected areas and farmland in drought-stricken parts of Peru as the Andean country suffers one of its driest periods in years, authorities say.

A photo captioned "fires brought under control in four nature reserves", posted by SERNANP on 24 November 2016.

A photo captioned "fires brought under control in four nature reserves", posted by SERNANP on 24 November 2016. Photo: Twitter / @SERNANP

The spate of fires in the past week were likely started by accident after village farmers burned fields to prepare them for planting, said Edgar Ortega, with Peru's Civil Defence Institute.

Strong winds fanned the flames that quickly crossed the Andean regions of Cajamarca and Lambayeque in northern Peru, which were experiencing prolonged droughts, Mr Ortega said.

Fires had been contained in five nature reserves, including the Laquipampa Wildlife Refuge - home to the protected spectacled bear, the inspiration for the Paddington Bear character in English children's literature, said Cecilia Cabello, with Peru's protected areas agency SERNANP.

The charred remains of spectacled bears and other wildlife have been found in some areas, Ms Cabello said.

Peru was experiencing one of its driest years in two decades, according to Peru's forest service SERFOR.

In September, wildfires along the Ene River in a southern Amazonian region destroyed some 20,000 hectares of rainforest.

Less rain due to climate change and last year's El Niño weather pattern had made the Amazon drier than usual, scientists said.

In August, biologists and environmentalists from around the world warned the presidents of Peru, Brazil and Bolivia about the dangers of devastating fires in what they said might be the region's worst drought in at least half a century.

"One of the most worrisome signs of global climate change is an increase in the frequency of severe droughts in the Andean-Amazonian region," they said in an open letter delivered by the NGO Pronaturaleza. "Preventing a potentially extensive emergency is a million times preferable to having to confront it."

Peru's military has deployed planes and helicopters to douse the flames with water, but firefighting has been constrained by high altitudes and difficult geography in some Andean provinces.

"In some areas the fires are contained but still not extinguished," Mr Ortega told a news conference, adding that some hot spots are still expanding.

No one had died in the fires and no evacuations have been ordered, Mr Ortega said.

- Reuters

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