Wildfires tear across drought-striken parts of Peru

The spate of wildfires in the past week were likely started by accident after peasant farmers burned fields to prepare them for planting, official said.

By: Reuters | Lima | Published:November 25, 2016 7:39 am

Wildfires have torn through more than 22,000 hectares (54,363 acres) of forest, protected areas and farmland in drought-striken parts of Peru as the Andean country suffers one of its driest periods in years, authorities said on Thursday.

The spate of wildfires in the past week were likely started by accident after peasant farmers burned fields to prepare them for planting, said Edgar Ortega with Peru’s Civil Defense Institute. Strong winds fanned the flames that quickly crossed the highland regions of Cajamarca and Lambayeque, which are experiencing prolonged droughts, Ortega said.

“In some areas the fires are contained but still not extinguished,” Ortega told a news conference. The 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.

Fires are now contained in five nature reserves, including the Laquipampa Wildlife Refuge that is 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, said Cabello.

No one has died in the fires and no evacuations have been ordered, Ortega said. In September, wildfires along the Ene River in a southern Amazonian region destroyed some 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) of rainforest.

Less rain due to climate change and last year’s El Nino weather pattern have made the Amazon drier than usual, scientists have said. Peru’s forest service, Serfor, has said that Peru is experiencing one of its driest years in nearly two decades.