Wildfires rage near Bogota as temperatures soar

Since November, over 17,000 hectares (42,008 acres) of land in Colombia have been ravaged by forest fires, marking the hottest January in decades for the country. Authorities attribute the more than 340 recorded fires to an extended period of drought, unprecedented heat, and the El Niño weather phenomenon. Environment Minister Susana Muhamad revealed on Friday that 26 fires are still active, with one perilously close, about 900 meters (2,953 feet) from Bogota’s El Paraiso neighborhood. The Colombian Red Cross reported treating residents affected by the smoke, sharing images of emergency workers aiding a man wearing a face mask on the social media platform X.

In response to the crisis, President Gustavo Petro declared a natural disaster, enabling the redirection of funds from other budget allocations to combat the blazes, and he has called for international assistance. Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport returned to regular operations on Friday after the previous day’s restrictions disrupted 138 flights.

Ghisliane Echeverry, the director of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies in Colombia, noted that this month is on track to be the hottest January in 30 years. She cautioned that February might bring even higher temperatures, and relief may only come in March with the arrival of rains to “mitigate” the consequences of the extreme heat. Simultaneously, authorities are investigating the possibility of arson as a cause for some fires, leading to the arrest of 26 individuals on charges related to fire incidents.

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