Ecuador risk management officials declared a fire emergency Tuesday morning for areas near the towns of Oña and Nabón, about 50 miles south of Cuenca. Army troops and volunteers from nearby communities have been brought in to combat the blazes.
An emergency was also declared for a large fire near Pucará, west of the Yunguilla Valley.
Risk management says that between November 18 and 20, 29 fires near Oña and Nabon have burned almost 1,000 hectares, many of them still burning. The largest fire, near Susudel, has consumed 300 hectares and has prompted calls to nearby volunteer fire departments for help.
“This area is one of the most susceptible to fires in the sierra because of its dry climate,” said Jorge Ramada of the risk management office. “Oña and Nabón receive about 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rainfall annually, which means vegetation is dryer and burns easily. By comparison, he said that Cuenca receives an average of 96 centimeters (38 inches) and Quito receives 130 (51 inches).
“Unfortunately, fire condition are optimal these days,” Ramada said. “Daytime humidity levels are10% to 15% in the fire zone, we have intense sunshine and are experiencing high winds.”
Risk management authorities are warning residents near the fires to avoid prolonged exposure to smoke and are asking for assistance in identifying those who may be responsible for the fires. “We estimate that 90 percent of the fires are man-made,” said Ramada. “Most are accidental but some we believe have been set intentionally.”
Most of the fires near Cuenca were under control on Monday, according to the fire department, although new ones continue to pop up. The smoke that plagued some neighborhoods over the weekend has dissipated.
The national weather office says rain chances will improve toward the end of the week, but only slightly.