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Friday, March 13, 1998 Published at 23:44 GMT


Amazon forest fire worsening
image: [ Helicopters are being brought from Venezuela to battle with the blaze ]
Helicopters are being brought from Venezuela to battle with the blaze

The authorities in Brazil's most northern state, Roraima, say they are launching an operation to try to put out some of the worst forest fires ever seen in the Amazon region. Our Brazil correspondent, Stephen Cviic has been monitoring the progress of the fires:

The thickly forested state of Roraima is experiencing a natural disaster of epic proportions. A quarter of its surface area is either on fire or in ashes.

Tens of thousands of cattle have died of thirst and hundreds of people have lost their livelihoods. The fires - currently raging over an area of nearly 60,000 km - have also begun to encroach on a reserve belonging to the state's Yanomami Indians.

The governor of Roraima, Neudo Campos, declared a state of emergency back in January, but with only eighty fire-fighters at his disposal, it has become increasingly clear that he does not have the means to deal with the situation.

So he has now decided to hire a fleet of helicopters capable of pouring thousands of litres of water out of the sky.

It's significant that the helicopters are being provided by a company from across the border in Venezuela; Roraima is thousands of kilometres from any of Brazil's major cities and assistance from the federal government has been noticeable by its absence.

It remains to be seen whether aerial spraying will be successful in putting out the fires, many of which have been started by farmers clearing land to plant their crops. Even the state governor says it could take up to two weeks to put out the fires.

What Roraima really needs is rain and that's not forecast for several weeks.

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