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Colombia Forest Fires: Current Status


Forest fires Colombia
Forest fire situation in Colombia – Credit: @BomberosBogota / X

The forest fire situation in Colombia remains stable, with four active outbreaks reported on the morning of February 1. The National Unit for Risk and Disaster Management (UNGRD) identifies these locations as Valledupar, Cienaga, Sucre, and Prado. Particularly concerning are the first two fires, situated on opposite sides of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The indigenous authorities in the region have reported a recurring issue with the fires: once extinguished, they reignite after a short period. Meanwhile, firefighters and police officials have expressed concerns over inadequate resources to effectively address the severity of the situation.

In a related update, the government announced that four additional fires are now under control. Since the onset of the most intense phase of the El Niño phenomenon last November, a total of 461 fires have been extinguished across Colombia. Data indicates that during January 2024 alone, Colombia experienced 453 conflagrations.

Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta burns

Since the first fire was detected in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta on January 26, a total of six fires have ravaged the natural area, both from the northern part, in the municipality of Cienaga, and on the other side of the mountain, in Valledupar, capital of the department of Cesar.

Despite concerted efforts by various institutions, relief agencies, firefighters, and local communities, the flora and fauna of this natural sanctuary remain at risk. In this context, Mauricio Pulido, a neighborhood leader in Uranio de Cienaga Verada, expressed concerns to RCN about the delayed response of public officials in addressing the emergency.

“We reported the fire to the competent authorities, we informed the mayors of Cienaga and Zona Bananera, we also reported to the firefighters, they have listened to us, but we need more than listening, we need action. We need them to act because the ecosystem is at risk”, said the neighborhood leader in statements to the media.

While the intensity of the fires has lessened, the reality remains that part of the paramo ecosystem, predominantly composed of frailejones, as well as medicinal plants and various local flora species, has been consumed by the flames. Consequently, indigenous communities in the region have voiced their concern. They have even collaborated with firefighters in efforts to extinguish the fires.

According to a leader of the Kogui ethnic group, only 15 people are in some hot spots controlling the fire.

Do not let your guard down

Authorities are maintaining a heightened state of alert, especially as February, starting today, is considered the month of highest risk due to drought conditions. The National Unit for Risk and Disaster Management (UNGRD) stated, “We are continuously monitoring the emergencies caused by forest fires in Colombia from our crisis room.” They report that over 18,000 hectares have been impacted since the start of the climate crisis three months ago.

Carlos Galan, the mayor of Bogota, echoed similar sentiments. The local mayor, who has recently contended with several fire outbreaks in the eastern hills of the capital, cautioned that “there may be more fires in February.” Despite a significant improvement in the city’s situation, particularly following the extinguishing of the fire on El Cable hill — the most substantial, which scorched 20 hectares — the mayor remains vigilant.

“This first stage of what is going to be the risk season in terms of forest fires is over. I have already been informed by the Fire Department of the situation of the fire in El Cable hill, it is already liquidated and in the process of ash storage, which is the last part of the process that the firefighters carry out to prevent its resurgence”, assured the local mayor.

A new outbreak of fire yesterday in the same area was caused by arson, according to the authorities, showing that the responsibility for the fire crisis is in human hands.

“In January and until today there have been 136 forest fires in Bogota; these are the best known, the most visible, but there have been many more, and with what is coming in terms of weather it is expected that there may be many more in February,” warned Galan.

Looking ahead to April

Yesterday’s light rain over Bogota offered a glimmer of hope, but forecasts predict a particularly dry February, not just in the capital but across the country. Consequently, expectations are now set on April, when the most acute phase of this year’s exceptionally extreme dry season is anticipated to conclude, giving way to the onset of the rainy season.

Similarly, Ideam’s (Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies) climate prediction model for precipitation estimates deficits between 10% and 30% in the Caribbean and Andean zones (departments of Magdalena, Bolívar, Sucre, Córdoba, Antioquia, Santanderes, Boyaca and Cundinamarca, Huila, Valle, Cauca and Nariño) during the February-April quarter.

In contrast, during the same quarter, Ideam anticipates a surplus of rainfall, ranging from 10% to 30%, in northeastern Vichada, southern Casanare, the majority of Meta, and northwestern Guaviare. For the rest of Colombia, normal seasonal rainfall levels are projected.

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