Colombia is facing a severe environmental crisis as over 17,000 hectares of land have been destroyed by raging forest fires since November of last year. Local authorities announced on Friday (26/1) that the nation is experiencing its hottest January in decades.

Susana Muhamad, Colombia's Minister of Environment, stated that more than 340 fires have been recorded during this period, triggered by prolonged drought, high temperatures, and the El Niño weather phenomenon. Currently, 26 fire hotspots are still active. Efforts have been made to extinguish several fires near the capital since Monday (22/1), including those in the mountains overlooking Bogota. Authorities have advised residents near affected areas to stay indoors due to poor air quality.

"Today, there is a fire in Nevada del Cocuy, a nature park with snow-covered peaks about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Bogota," Muhamad reported in a press conference as cited by AFP. She added that the fire is at a "significant height" in the park, prompting the deployment of helicopters to assess the situation.

Smoke in Bogota

One of the fire points erupted around 900 meters from the El Paraiso neighborhood in eastern Bogota. The Colombian Red Cross in Bogota reported on social media platforms that some residents affected by the smoke are receiving medical treatment, alongside photos of emergency workers assisting a masked man.

President Gustavo Petro declared a natural disaster earlier this week, redirecting funds from other budgets to combat the fires and requesting international assistance. The El Dorado International Airport in Bogota returned to normal operations on Friday after restrictions on the previous day affected 138 flights.

Ghisliane Echeverry, the director of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies in Colombia, warned that this month would be the hottest January in the last 30 years. Echeverry cautioned that February is expected to experience even higher temperatures, and only in March, rainfall might help "mitigate" the impact of extreme heat.

Authorities are investigating whether arsonists are responsible for some of the fires, and police have arrested 26 individuals for "fire-related violations." As Colombia grapples with this environmental emergency, the international community's assistance becomes crucial in tackling the devastating consequences of the ongoing forest fires.