Wildfires burn millions of acres in Argentina

Most of the fires are in the provinces of La Pampas, Rio-Negro, and Buenos Aires.

Wildfires in Argentina have burned approximately 2.47 million acres (1 million hectares) over the last several weeks. On December 22 NASA satellites started detecting heat from fires that grew to become some of the larger blazes on the east side of the country 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of the coastal city of Bahia Blanca.

Fires Argentina
Fires detected by NASA satellites in Argentina December 22, 2016.

Below is an excerpt from an article by NASA, and following that is a series of five more satellite photos showing the progression of the fires up through January 6:

Severe drought during the winter and spring of 2016 in northeastern Patagonia played a large role in the current fires, said Guillermo Defossé, a professor of ecology at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco and researcher for the Centro de Investigación y Extensión Forestal Andino Patagónico (CIEFAP), an organization that monitors Patagonian forests.

“While historically these ecosystems were fire prone, during the last century the number of wildfires severely declined as a consequence of a great grazing pressure—grazers consumed all fine fuels that otherwise will carry the fires—and a successful policy of fire exclusion,” Defossé wrote in an email. “This masked, in part, the fact that these ecosystems are naturally highly flammable, with a fire recurrence time of about 20–25 years. During the last 10 years, however, a very sharp decline in wool prices and continuous drought—probably due to climate change—made several ranchers to reduce the number of sheep or directly abandon the ranching activity. This abandonment increased the availability and amount of fine fuels.”

Fires Argentina
Fires detected by NASA satellites in Argentina December 27, 2016.

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Head of Argentina’s National Fire Management dismissed after Chubut fire

Fires Chubut province Argentina
The largest concentration of red dots just to the right of the center of the image shows the location of wildfires in the western area of Chubut province near Cholila city in Argentina, February 26, 2015. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite. Smoke can also be seen in the NASA image.

Below is an excerpt from an article in the Buenos Aires Herald:

Argentina’s National Fire Management Service (SNMF) of the Environment and Sustainable Development Ministry director Jorge Barrionuevo has been fired by newly appointed Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández.

Fernández fired Barrionuevo and called him “useless”, arguing he did not handle properly the fire that spread among the native forests of Chubut province, the worst in the country’s recorded history as 20,000 hectares — about the size of Buenos Aires City — were reported to have succumbed to the flames.

“We are making some changes because things are getting over his head. This government does not deserve that. We can no longer bear with useless people that think this is a joke. This is a very serious matter. A province is suffering and a country is suffering,” Fernández, who met with Chubut governor Martín Buzzi, said.