Argentina wildfire threatens unique wetland ecosystem

A prolonged drought has left vegetation tinder dry

Firefighters battle a blaze as  it consumes trees and pastures in Corrientes province, Argentina. Reuters
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A devastating wildfire in the province of Corrientes in north-eastern Argentina has razed almost 8,000 square kilometres of land, or nearly 10 per cent of the region's area.

A report by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) released on Friday said 785,238 hectares of land had been burnt, which represents 9 per cent of the province's area.

Firefighters continued operations to extinguish the flames.

"We are trying to stop the fire from moving westward [towards the Ibera wetlands], trying to stop it from spreading. It's a very tough and complicated job because the conditions are extreme, with high temperatures and wind and little humidity,” said Daniel Arce, one of the firemen involved in the operation.

The governor of Corrientes, Gustavo Valdes, declared the province an "ecological and environmental disaster zone".

The flames threaten wildlife in the Ibera National Park, the largest wetland in the country and one of its largest ecosystems.

Many animals have been burnt by flames or poisoned by smoke, while others have been run over on roads while trying to escape the fires. Some of them wander in search of new places, after their habitats were destroyed by drought and fire.

Local officials who manage the site of ecological importance said that drought had parched the once green area.

"The intensity of the fire that kept spreading, just as here, it happened in other places. Today 9 per cent of [Corrientes] province was burnt. To think that today we are defending from an intense drought, a province that is normally green, full of water,” said Alejandra Boloqui, administrator of Don Luis Natural Reserve.

Farmers in the area are abandoning hope that rainfall will come soon and ease the crisis.

"The fire is too big and overwhelming, we can only hope for rain that is not going to come,” said Mirta Niz, a rancher.

“So we depend on luck. We don't want it to continue because we have more lands, some 40km inland and we have two other very large pine plantations. All our lands are going to burn, we don't have anywhere to put the cattle, the cattle will burn,” he said.

Updated: February 20, 2022, 10:39 AM