Colombia declares a disaster due to wildfires as it calls for international help

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Colombia declared a disaster situation on Thursday due to wildfires raging across several parts of the country, as the president warned the conditions could get worse.

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro declared a “situation of disaster and calamity,” telling reporters that funds previously approved for other purposes are being redirected to deal with the crisis.

The government is also seeking international help, he said, adding that the United States, Chile, Peru and Canada, “which has enormous experience [fighting fires],” have responded to the call. Petro said he’s also seeking the cooperation of the United Nations and the European Union.

The fires are the result of hot and dry conditions linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon, according to officials. El Niño is expected to continue for the next few months before ending during the Northern Hemisphere spring.

Petro warned that the situation, which he described as a “climate crisis,” will get worse. “We are going toward an increasingly difficult stage,” he said.

Temperatures across much of the country have been 5 to 10 degrees Celsius above normal in recent days and weeks. Many locations are in the mid to even upper 30s C (upper 90s to low 100s F) and are coming on the heels of above-average temperatures across the region in recent months.

A firefighter puts out a forest fire in Bogota on January 25. - Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images
A firefighter puts out a forest fire in Bogota on January 25. - Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

At least 25 active fires were reported on Thursday by the National Disaster Risk Management Unit. Ten are under control and 217 have been extinguished, the agency said.

Billowing smoke has overwhelmed some areas in the country and led to flights being cancelled in the capital Bogota.

The city’s El Dorado airport operated with restrictions Thursday morning due to low visibility from smoke and fog.

“We estimate that the phenomenon is composed of 70% fog and 30% smoke,” the Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia said on X.

At least 138 flights were affected, 48 were canceled and 16 were rerouted to other airports, the authority reported.

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