Blazes are tearing through northeast Argentina, consuming more land than a typical California wildfire season and threatening a key cattle farming region in this major beef exporter.
“I’ve never seen fires like this,” said lifelong rancher Juan José Ramírez.
Ramírez, 81, lost 1,300 hectares (3,212 acres) after a spark from a passing train ignited fields parched by the worst drought in about 70 years.
“We’ve been herding 1,000 cows away from danger as the flame rings advance,” he said in a phone interview.
The fires have already swept through almost two million acres in Argentina’s Corrientes, about nine percent of a province that’s mainly a mix of ranching pastures and protected wetlands, with little sign of relief as temperatures soar to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The flames are consuming 30,000 hectares each day, about twice the size of New York’s Staten Island.
The land burned in Argentina so far this year already exceeds the 1.6 million acres that California has lost on average to wildfires annually since 2017.
Climate and land-use changes are making wildfires across the globe more frequent and intense, with extreme blazes expected to increase by as much as 30 percent by the end of 2050, the United Nations Environment Programme said in a Wednesday report.
Argentina’s worst-hit areas are Corrientes Province’s prized wetlands, which have unique ecosystems that host wildlife including jaguars, caymans and capybaras. Agricultural plains are also suffering: Corrientes is home to about five million cattle, nearly one-tenth of the herd in this powerhouse beef nation. The government is providing financial help to farmers like Ramírez for whom the damage is estimated to be worth US$640 million, according to La Nación newspaper.
Argentina had already been suffering from the dryness, with farmers losing crops, exporters grappling with shallow rivers, and the government forced to substitute weak hydro power when scientists are warning that climate change has brought the world to a tipping point.
by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg