The western Colombia state of Choco on Wednesday called the help of neighboring departments as a colossal wildfire is endangering the lives of Afro-Colombians and indigenous groups living near the border with Panama.
Codechoco, the regional authority on environmental issues, confirmed to press agency Colprensa that the wildfire has destroyed over 12 square miles of valuable marshes and wetlands in Choco’s Unguia municipality.
The local authorities have evacuated the residents of the communities of the townships Marriaga, Arquia, Tumarado and Palo Blanco, to avoid personal injuries.
The fire has been rampant for over 10 days and shows no signs of relenting. All efforts to control the fire have rendered unsuccessful and helicopters have not been able to support the operation. Sources from the municipality told Colprensa that the Army is unable to help as they are heavily engaged with counter-insurgency activities in the region.
National authorities respond
According to the news agency, The National Fire Brigade said that they have taken action to determine the extent of the conflagration and are currently studying the fires movement so personnel can intervene. Alongside this, the Departmental Council for Disaster Risk Management of Antioquia have made overflights, enabled them to capture aerial images which provide references for the source of the fire.
The Mayor of Unguia, Victor Manuel Gomez, told newspaper El Colombiano that he has been waiting for the National Risk Management to facilitate the dispatch of an aircraft with Bambi-Bucket system to control the fire for over four days. Cortez also stressed that if the required air support is not received then it could take 30 years to recover from the damage caused by the fire.
This situation is reportedly disastrous for the region’s ecosystem; hundreds of acres of important wetland such as the picturesque Lagoazul and the Marriaga swamp has been engulfed in flames. Unfortunately, this includes the animals that inhibit these lands, “Charred monkeys, frogs and snakes are seen” a Codechoco official told Colprensa.
The most distressing thing reportedly is the plight of the manatees, an already endangered species, as the corridor through which it passes is currently in flames. The authorities fear that the fire will spread to the nearby Los Katios National Park
“We still cannot estimate the amount of hectares affected until the operational bodies identify the magnitude,” Colombia’s Risk Management Authority told Chinese news website La Gran Epoca. Taken the strength of the winds into account, two or three more days of this could result in 20 or more square miles going up in flames.
The risk management official confirmed that the next step is to develop an action plan in which air and land forces will cooperate in extinguishing the flames, taking into account the factors that prevent access to the area. “We will activate aerial firewall units trained in wildfire management and other containment measures.”
Currently, volunteers and relief agency staff are trying to combat the fire but the aid of more rescuers and helicopters are needed. Codechoco requested assistance from neighboring states for assistance and the Ministry of Environment and the national government to help as soon as possible.