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Sunday, March 15, 1998 Published at 14:35 GMT

World: Americas

Amazon fires rage on
image: [ A quarter of the northern state of  Roraima has been reduced to ashes ]
A quarter of the northern state of Roraima has been reduced to ashes

The federal government in Brazil says it is not yet willing to pay for helicopters to try to put out the forest fires which are raging in the northern state of Roraima.

A federal official who is visiting the state, Marco Franca, said he needed to hear more expert opinion about whether the plan, put forward by the state governor, Neudo Campos, was workable.

BBC Correspondent Jane Standley reports from northern Brazil on the devastation (1' 05")
Local officials want the central government to release the $2.4m already approved to rent 22 Russian and U.S. firefighting helicopters from a company in the nearby Venezuelan city of Maturin.

But Mr Franca, after flying over one of the worst affected areas, said the fires were so bad that without rain there was simply no way of bringing them completely under control.

Instead the government in Brasilia is to send a team of 50 specialists in jungle firefighting to Roraima in the next few days, who will attempt to put out the flames from ground level.

A quarter of the thickly forested state of Roraima is already either on fire or in ashes - an area the size of Costa Rica.

[ image: Fires have encroached on Yanomami villages]
Fires have encroached on Yanomami villages
The fires have destroyed 12,000 cattle and 30% of the region's crops, and are now threatening some of the indigenous Indian villages.

Roraima, which has experienced its worst drought conditions in 30 years, is one of Brazil's most remote states. It is also home to about 3,000 Yanomami, considered the world's largest surviving Stone Age tribe.

About 15 Yanomami villages are threatened by the fires, many of which have been started by farmers clearing land to plant their crops.


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