Wildfires in Corrientes, which started almost a month ago, continue to be relentless in their spread. Farmlands, protected animals, and plants have been endangered, but the fires do not seem to abate.
Northern Argentina has been experiencing wildfires for the past few weeks. Out of all the areas traversed by the wildfires, the province of Corrientes has suffered the most. Reports have stated that there were at least eight different wildfires in the province occurring at the same time.
Environmental conditions that were present around the same time that the wildfires began worked to the advantage of the fires. The winds were strong, the humidity was low, and the drought created dry conditions. Together, this made it suitable for the fires to spread.
The province was experiencing drought as early as the middle of November last year. Levels of rainfall only reached 10 to 15 millimeters, which is much lower than the average rainfall of 200 millimeters expected during the season. At the same time, humidity was just at 15%, when it is usually at 70%.
On January 11 of this year, the temperature in the country reached as high as 41.1°C. This was the second highest temperature ever recorded.
A resident in the province also shares that “it never happened to us, we never lived something like this, we were really overcome.”
Initially, the National Meteorological Service expected that rain would not come last weekend. In addition to this, temperatures would continue to rise. This scenario wouldn’t be anything new for the province. However, light rains did come last Sunday and are expected to persist throughout the coming days of the week. Estefanía Riveiro, one of the volunteers, said that “it’s a blessing from God, I think God took pity on us.”
More firefighting units from across the country, and even from Brazil and Bolivia, are coming to Northern Argentina to handle the catastrophic situation.
Many of the citizens in the province are also working nonstop in order to prevent the wildfires from causing any more damage than they have already done. Last week, one of the workers at a ranch, Omar Zimmerman, said that “we started putting fires out last Tuesday. Yesterday we were working tired without sleeping for over 40 hours.”
Public support is also increasing to help citizens residing in affected areas cope with the damage brought about by the wildfires in Corrientes and the rest of Northern Argentina. Funds are being gathered by artists and prominent individuals. At the same time, donations of essential goods, such as fruit, water, and ice, are coming in. A volunteer, Laura Nunez, shares that “they bring it in a trailer, they are getting everything possible so that we can focus on the fire and try to help.”
Economic and Environmental Losses from the Wildfires in Corrientes
Daniel Bertorello, the commander of the provincial capital’s volunteer firefighters, said late last week that “more than 600,000 hectares have been burned; our teams can’t cope. We have water bomber planes, helicopters, but we just can’t cope.”
But, more damage has occurred over the days since Bertorello released the statement. These wildfires in Corrientes have already damaged at least 9% of the province’s entire land area. Around 30,000 hectares, or 89,000 acres, are being burned by the wildfires on each day that they are occurring. This amounts to as much as 800,000 hectares, as of the latest. If the wildfires in Corrientes continue indefinitely, more of its natural resources will turn into ash.
Apart from this, at least $4.2 million worth of yerba mate, $44.6 million worth of rice crops, and 70,000 cattle have been ravaged by the wildfires.
One of the citizens who produces yerba mate, Orlando Stvass, said that “we’re mortgaging 10 years of our future because of this situation, because all the new plantations have died.”
Argentinian officials said that the losses brought about by the wildfires currently exceed the value of 26 billion Argentine pesos, or $240 million. Experts believe that it will not be easy to recover from this situation. The country may need years to get back on its feet from a disaster that lasted for weeks.
Ibera National Park, One of the Largest Wetlands in the World, is Not Spared
The Ibera National Park was created just four years ago. Since then, it has become the largest protected area in the country. It is home to more than 380 different species of birds and other diverse wildlife. The endangered species of marsh deer, pampas deer, and maned wolf can also be found here.
However, it was not spared by the wildfires in Corrientes. Many hectares of land burned, but it wasn’t just that. The wildlife was also left at the mercy of the fires. Many animals have been caught on fire, inhaled the toxic fumes from the smoke, or been run over by vehicles trying to move away from the fires.
Andrea Boloqui, the president of the Corrientes Chamber of Tourism, said that “the animals do not have water. We leave water for the monkeys in the trees and for the alligators two or three thousand liters per day, when we do not need it to put out the fire.”
Wildfires Are Man-Made Situations
Locals in the province and firefighters claim that these wildfires occur on their own. Although it is possible, an ecologist named Luis Martinez thinks that this was not the case in the wildfires in Corrientes. He believes that the mismanagement of locals in the pastures of the area has led to the current situation that they are now facing. The practice of burning pastures in order to promote the health of the land or to prevent wildfires that could even be more damaging did not result in the advantage locals were hoping to obtain. Rather, the total opposite of it occurred.
He said that “it is a severe impact, caused by deforestation, desertification and poor land use, which is now combined with a new rainfall regime caused by climate change.”
The wildfires in Corrientes provide a picture of how climate change and the unsustainable practices of humans can lead to the loss of income, natural resources, and, ultimately, lives.