LA PAZ - Environmentalists in Bolivia warned Thursday of a marked increase in forest fires this year that threaten a repeat of the environmental disaster that ravaged much of the Amazon in 2019.
Bolivia registered 15,354 forest fires in the first four months of the year -- a 35 percent increase on the same period last year, the Friends of Nature Foundation (FAN) said.
FAN said it had monitored information from NASA satellites to record fires between January and April 21.
The deliberate burning is mainly to expand agricultural land, the NGO said.
The fires "are in agricultural areas, meaning that what is being detected corresponds to burning areas for agricultural use," FAN activist Carlos Pinto.
However, the NGO said "current climatic conditions are favorable to avoid large scale fires," as dry season was still months away.
Wildfires in 2019 destroyed millions of hectares of Bolivia's Amazon region, which at the same time destroyed vast areas of the rainforest in neighboring Brazil, drawing global condemnation and sparking debate over how best to protect the Amazon from a drive by Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro to expand agricultural land.
As the wildfires raged through August, Bolivia had to use special firefighting planes, a Supertanker Boeing 747 and a Russian Ilyushin, as well as helicopters, 5,000 firefighters, soldiers and police to combat the blazes.
Environmentalists blame laws enacted under former leftist President Evo Morales, who for years encouraged burning of forest and pasture land to expand agricultural production.
The government attributed the blazes to dry weather and flame-fanning winds.