The Guatemalan government on Tuesday declared a 30-day, nationwide state of emergency amid ongoing forest fires in the country’s desolate northern Peten region.
Heinz Heimann, spokesperson for President Jimmy Morales, described the country as being in a “state of calamity” over the fires, which he claimed is a consequence of global environmental destruction.
“This emergency clearly illustrates our country’s high level of vulnerability in the face of climate change,” Heimann said.
Peten’s Maya Biosphere Reserve has been the worse hit. The department has about 16 active fires, two of which are under control, EFE reports. Other areas impacted are national parks of Laguna del Tigre, Sierra de Lacandón, Triángulo de Candelaria in the Multiple Use Zone and other protected areas.
Twenty of the country’s 22 departments are in danger because of the heat, EFE adds.
Morales has since issued an executive decree temporarily placing civil and military officials under the coordination of the National System for the Prevention and Control of Forest Fires (SIPECIF) and the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (CONRED) in order to combat the blaze.
The government has also allocated US$27 million in emergency funds for firefighting efforts, Mongabay reports. The funds will be used for maintenance of helicopters, vehicles, equipment and contracting firefighters for the work of extinction, among others.
The governments of Mexico and Honduras have also sent Guatemala specialized helicopters designed to tame the fires.
According to Sergio Cabañas, the executive secretary of the CONRED, Guatemala has experienced nearly 513 forest fires since October 2016, Prensa Latina reports. These fires have devastated around 5,800 hectares of land across the country’s northern region.
Peten is widely regarded as the “cradle of Mayan civilization” and a “lung of Latin America,” given that most of the region is covered in forests which produce oxygen.