Saturday, September 15, 2007

Paraguay fires scorch millions of acres

Los Angeles Times: Wind-blown fires scorching the parched Paraguayan countryside have scarred almost 3 million acres of forest, brush, pasture and farmland, officials said Friday, forcing the evacuation of 15,000 people and threatening nature reserves. A protracted drought and the common practice of burning land for agriculture have contributed to the disaster, which some authorities have called the worst fires in Paraguay's history.

"The complexity of the situation is well beyond human control," Jose Key Kanasawa, chief of the National Emergency Secretariat, told Inter Press Service. "The only thing we can do is contain it, resist it, stop it from spreading and pray that the rain comes." Authorities have blamed an explosion of separate blazes largely on peasants who routinely use fires to clear pasture and farmland, especially to plant export crops such as soy beans and cotton. Hot, dry and windy weather has fanned the blazes.

But experts cite other culprits: illegal loggers seeking access to protected forest areas, clandestine marijuana farmers and illicit hunters opening paths. Many of the affected regions have few police officers or other authorities…

Officials declared a national emergency in four provinces this week amid fierce criticism that the government of President Nicanor Duarte Frutos had failed to recognize the severity of the threat. The current scenario is grave, the president acknowledged….

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