An environmental alert has been issued in the Colombian capital, Bogota, threatened by smoke from active forest fires affecting an area the size of Paris in the country’s Amazon region, local authorities announced on Saturday.
Winds have blown smoke from the fires as far as the Colombian capital, about 350 km to the northwest, Belga news agency reports.
“The city is now on an environmental alert,” Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez tweeted on Saturday.
Over half of the capital’s air-quality monitoring stations had continuously reported high levels of pollution over the previous 48 hours, the mayor said, calling on the capital’s eight million inhabitants to refrain from any open-air activity for the next few days, Belga reported.
Colombia’s National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD – Spanish acronym) reported on Saturday in its latest information bulletin that a total of 301 forest fires had broken out between 16 December and 4 February, affecting a combined area of 86,800 hectares. Thus far, 291 fires have been extinguished, according to the UNGRD, which blamed the fires on extremely dry weather and “criminal hands.”
The Colombian Government feels the fires have been set by former rebels who decided to stop complying with the historic 2016 peace agreement that led to the disarmament of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, a Marxist guerilla group, Belga reported.
The dissidents, as they are called in Colombia, plan to grab land and illegally practice extensive cattle farming, according to Defence Minister Diego Molando, who published a list of 17 presumed culprits.
Due to the fires, 597 municipalities are now on varying phases of alert, according to the UNGRD: 550 are on red alert - the highest level – while 38 are on orange and 9 on yellow.
Some of the municipalities on red alert are in the southeastern department of Guaviare, whose governor, Heydeer Palacio, said “10,000 hectares,” – almost the size of Paris (10,500 ha) had been consumed by fire. The affected area includes the Parque Nacional Natural Serrania del Chiribiquete, located between Guaviare and neighbouring Caqueta Department, both of which are located in the country's Amazon region.
The Parque Nacional Natural Serrania del Chiribiquete is the world’s largest tropical rainforest national park and a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Colombian Government on Saturday announced the launch, in the park, of the latest phase of Artemisa, a campaign linking the Ministries of Defence and Environment and aimed at protecting the country’s biodiversity by going after groups that threaten it.
“There are gangs of delinquents trying to grab land,” the Buenos Aires based news service, Infobae, quoted Environment Minister Carlos Eduardo Correa as saying in its Sunday edition. “They have been cutting down and burning trees, and we can see fires in various areas of the national park,” he said.
Phase 14 of the Artemisa Campaign is aimed at stopping the illegal destruction of the park by capturing those responsible and having them prosecuted, Infobae reported.