US: Bolivia hopes to prevent forest fires in vulnerable areas

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian authorities are striving to prevent an increase in forest fires at its border with Argentina, after almost one million hectares (2.47 million acres) ravaged the eastern part of the country so far this year, authorities said on Sunday.

Risks of new fire spots in some forested and agricultural areas in Bolivia remain a concern, government authorities said.

"Our goal is to prevent the affected figure from reaching 1.5 million (hectares)," the Vice Minister of Civil Defense, Juan Carlos Calvimontes, told local media on Sunday.

Calvimontes, however, celebrated the fact that the country is facing a "significant reduction" if compared to the 5 million hectares burned in 2019.

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A preliminary report by Bolivian Civil Defense revealed that 80% of the fires affected areas of grassland and small bushes, mainly due to the drought and the use of fire by farmers to clear land for crops.

Satellite images showed over 500 hot spots in Bolivia, although the active fires are only about twenty, Civil Defense estimates.

Bolivia has a limited number of firefighters to fight forest fires in the country, but the government has mobilized 10,513 military personnel to work to mitigate fire risks, according to Civil Defense.

Bolivia, along with Argentina's help, could represent a lifeline for the region's rich fauna and flora at the border of both counties, said Mayor Carlos Brú of the border town Yacuiba.

"It hurts us to see the fire in our hill, because (...) our green paraba, parrots, monkeys and toucans and other varieties of animals that live in this place have been affected," he said.

(Reporting by Santiago Limachi, additional reporting by Daniel Ramos; editing by Diane Craft)

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