Jan 29, 2024 - Energy & Environment

In photos: Colombia battles raging wildfires

A rescuer working to extinguish a forest fire at night with the lights of Bogota in the background.

Rescuers work to extinguish a forest fire in Bogotá, Colombia on Jan. 24, 2024. Photo: Diego Cuevas/Getty Images

Raging wildfires that have so far burned more than 40,000 acres across Colombia since November are expected to intensify and continue through March.

Driving the news: President Gustavo Petro last week declared a national emergency, allowing funding for other projects to be diverted to firefighting efforts.

  • Colombia's National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD) said on Saturday that there were 17 fires still burning, with one blaze burning half a mile from a Bogotá neighborhood.
  • At least two people have been killed since the fires began, according to local reports.

The big picture: The Amazon River Basin has been in "exceptional drought" since mid-2023, according to a recent study.

  • The study found that while El Niño has worsened the drought, higher temperatures due primarily to human-caused climate change were the catalyst and also vaulted fires to more severe levels.
  • While the majority of the Amazon rainforest is in Brazil, the vast biodiversity haven and carbon sink stretches across a total of eight countries, including Colombia.
  • The combination of unusually dry conditions and hotter-than-average temperatures has primed the landscape for blazes.

Between the lines: Petro, who cut funding for firefighting efforts by 25% this year, has come under criticism for his handling of the situation, but he claims "mayors were warned" of the potential for wildfires.

  • Funding for national firefighting efforts dropped from a little more than $90 million in 2023 to roughly $68 million in 2024.

What to watch: In declaring the emergency, Petro appealed to other countries for help battling the blazes, citing the potential for fires to spread.

  • "To the extent that we know that in the coming days and weeks crisis events are going to increase, we want to make sure that we have the physical capacity to address and mitigate them," Petro said.
People taking photos above Bogota, with the air extremely hazy from smoke.
People take photos of the smoke over Bogotá seen from the El Paraiso neighborhood on Jan. 26. Photo: Diego Cuevas/Getty Images
A close up photograph of a rescuer holding an axe in the mountains near Bogota.
A rescue soldier helps to extinguish the fire at the mountaintop of the eastern hills of Bogotá during a fire that lasted more than 48 hours on Jan. 24. Photo: Diego Cuevas/Getty Images
Flames are seen in the background of a photograph with apartment buildings in the foreground.
Flames rise from a forest during a wildfire near Bogotá on Jan. 24. Photo: Guillermo Munoz/AFP via Getty Images
An extremely hazy photograph showing a heliocopter silhouette against a fiery sky.
A rescue helicopter flies against a sunset in Bogotá, on Jan. 25. Photo: Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images
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