Wildfires are devastating wetlands on the islands of the Paraná River Delta, destroying the environment and endangering health due to heavy smoke, local authorities have warned.
"It is inevitable that setting fires in these adverse weather conditions, with a drought that has lasted four years and a strong drop in the Paraná River, is criminal. Whoever sets fires in these conditions cannot be unaware of the context in which they are doing it," Deputy Environment Minister Sergio Federovisky told Radio 10 on Tuesday.
Setting fires to clear fields for future planting is a regular practice in Argentina that is repeated every year, but according to Federovisky, the fires are also used to "transform wetlands into future real-estate developments."
Burning grasslands can be seen from the roads that cross the provinces of Santa Fe and Entre Ríos, and smoke from the flames, which more than a week ago settled over the city of Rosario, some 310 kilometres north of the capital, could also be smelled and seen in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.
Three people were arrested on Monday when they were discovered setting fire to dry vegetation on wetlands near the city of Victoria, Entre Ríos Province, and were handed over to the courts, a police source told AFP.
Due to the intense smoke, security officials in Santa Fe Province on Monday night decided to stop traffic on the bridge that connects the cities of Rosario and Victoria, in Entre Ríos.
According to the Environmental Observatory of the National University of Rosario, more than 10,000 hectares have been consumed by forest fires on the islands of the Paraná River in the last month.
Federovisky on Tuesday demanded greater speed from the justice system, saying that the environmental authorities had handed over to a judge in Victoria "the exact geolocation of the start of each of the fires provided by the heat detection cameras installed in the area by the Environment Ministry.”
They also asked the province for the details of the owners of the sites where recurrent fires occur in order to denounce them because "there is a deliberate action by the owners of the fields," the official insisted.
One complaint opened two years ago against powerful businessmen for burning grasslands in the region did not produce any progress in the justice system.
In Rosario, which has a population of 1.5 million, mass demonstrations have been held in recent days to demand the "cessation of intentional burning" and an urgent bill to create a Ley de Humedades ("Wetlands Law.")