Fires burn more than 1.5 million acres in northeast Argentina

Fires in the Corrientes province of Argentina
Fires in the Corrientes province of Argentina. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite between Feb. 13 and 16, 2022. NASA/FIRMS/NOAA.

Residents in the Corrientes province of Argentina are hopeful that light rains over the weekend that are predicted to continue for a few days will slow the numerous wildfires that have been burning in the area for months.

Drought, low humidities, and a record-setting heatwave have created conditions in the northeast part of the country that has made it difficult to suppress the widespread fires, some of which started in December. Officials estimate that more than 1.5 million acres have burned, including areas near Iberá National Park.

On February 7, 2022, the governor of Corrientes declared a state of emergency and an agricultural disaster, retroactive to January 1. The same day, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) estimated that the fires had affected roughly 6 percent of the province, which lies between the Paraná and Uruguay rivers near the border with Paraguay.

The growth of some of the fires can be linked to a non-native species, northern pine planted in the 1970s on abandoned areas formerly used for grazing after the old-growth forests had been logged. The government subsidized the conversion to the fast-growing pines to benefit the timber industry.

One species planted was radiata pine which is more flammable than the native trees. It has serotinous cones which open and disperse seeds after they are exposed to heat from fires. The resulting seedlings out-compete the native species so the diversity of the forest decreases and becomes  more susceptible to fires. Rinse-repeat.

The video below from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was published February 21, 2022.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

It’s not common to have major wildfires in the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time

Large fires are currently burning in Colorado and Argentina

Wildfires in Argentina

While 580 homes are burning in the Marshall Fire near Boulder Colorado, 6,000 miles to the south firefighters are battling numerous wildfires in Argentina. This is not common.

The video below is from the Associated press.

A helicopter under contract to the government of Argentina crashed Wednesday, Dec. 29 while working on a wildfire in the Patagonia region of the country according to local press reports. The two on board, a pilot and a mechanic, were killed.

Two killed as firefighting helicopter crashes in Argentina

wildfire argentina helicopter crash two dead
Map showing heat and smoke detected by a satellite at a wildfire in Argentina near Nahuel Huapi National Park.

This article was first published at Fire Aviation.

A helicopter under contract to the government of Argentina crashed Wednesday, Dec. 29 while working on a wildfire in the Patagonia region of the country according to local press reports. The two on board, a pilot and a mechanic, were killed.

The Bell 412 helicopter went down near Quillen, a lake in Neuquen province.

More than 200 personnel are assigned to the fire which has burned 9,900 acres (4,000 hectares) in or near Nahuel Huapi National Park.

The Federal Council of the Environment (Cofema) of Argentina and the Argentine Ministry of the Environment have declared an emergency throughout Argentina for the last 12 months due to drought and the risk of fires.

We send our sincere condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of the two firefighters.

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.

Continue reading “Wildfires burn millions of acres in Argentina”

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.

Fire Threatened 2,000 Year Old Trees in Argentina

It appears to be under control now, but for a while there was concern for some 2,000 year old cypress trees being threatened by a fire in the Patagonia region of Argentina, according to Reuters.

BUENOS AIRES, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Firefighters battled forest fires in Argentina’s Patagonia region on Thursday, but thousand-year-old trees in a national park were not threatened by the flames, a provincial official said.

The fire, which government officials blamed on arsonists, started in the Alerces National Park, raising fears about damage to the park’s famous Patagonian cypress trees. The trees can live for 2,000 years or more, making some of them among the oldest living things on Earth.

“The national park is totally under control. There’s no fire and the firefighters are doing the ground maintenance work to make sure it doesn’t catch fire again,” provincial government spokesman Daniel Taito said by telephone.

However, he said the flames had ravaged some 7,400 acres (3,000 hectares) of mostly native woodland beyond the borders of the national park, which lies in the Andean region of Chubut province near the Chilean border.

Local officials ordered the few residents of the sparsely populated area to evacuate their homes.

Environment Secretary Romina Picolotti, who visited the scene, said action was being taken “to find the culprits of this arson.”