Venezuela faces record wildfires amid Amazon drought

April 2, 2024 3:30 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Venezuela is battling a record number of wildfires, according to data released on Monday, as a climate change-driven drought plagues the Amazon rainforest region.

Satellites registered more than 30,200 fire points in Venezuela from January to March, the highest level for that period since records started in 1999, according to Brazil’s Inpe research agency, which monitors all of South America.

That includes fires in the Amazon, as well as the country’s other forests and grasslands.

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Man-made fires that are often set to clear land for agriculture are spreading out of control thanks to high temperatures and low rainfall in northern South America, as well as a lack of prevention planning, researchers say. Scientists blame the drought on climate change and El Nino, a natural warming in the eastern Pacific that roils global weather patterns.

While the rainy season has brought relief in recent months further south in Brazil’s Amazon, the fires in Venezuela could be a worrying sign for what’s ahead once the dry season arrives there, said Manoela Machado, a fire researcher at University of Oxford.

The region’s most intense fires typically occur in Brazil in August and September along the southeast edge of the Amazon, where deforestation for agriculture is most aggressive.

In Venezuela, roughly 400 firefighters fought a major blaze over the Easter holiday weekend that is threatening the lush Henri Pittier National Park, a beachfront preserve with rare cloud forests, according to the national park service.

Venezuela’s environment ministry said last month it had launched a coordinated effort with helicopters and additional equipment to fight the fires in Henri Pittier.

The ministry said last week it was mounting further firefighting efforts along a highway that cuts through the park.

In Venezuela’s Amazon region further south, there are 5,690 active fires as of late March, according to NASA data, opens new tab. That accounts for more than half of all the blazes burning in the entire Amazon across nine countries.

The fires are blanketing with smoke Guayana City, Venezuela’s largest urban center in the Amazon, according to a Reuters witness.

In the nearby town of Uverito, authorities evacuated 315 families from their homes due to the threat of fire, local media, opens new tab reported. Some 360 square kilometers have burned in Uverito, an area six times the size of Manhattan, according to Jose Rafael Lozada, a forestry engineer and retired professor at Universidad de Los Andes in Merida, Venezuela.