Wildfire in eastern Mexico largely contained, officials say

Photo courtesy of Civil Protection (PC) of Veracruz in Mexico, of an uncontrollable forest fire in Eastern Mexico on March 12, 2019. EPA-EFE/PC /editorial use only

Photo courtesy of Civil Protection (PC) of Veracruz in Mexico, of an uncontrollable forest fire in Eastern Mexico on March 12, 2019. EPA-EFE/PC /editorial use only


Forestry officials in the Mexican Gulf state of Veracruz said they have controlled around 85 percent of the forest fire that has destroyed about 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of land since the start of this week.

“If weather conditions are favorable, we will have 100 percent under control by Wednesday and a high percentage of recovery from the disaster,” officials said late Tuesday.

As a precaution, schools will be closed in the city of Las Vigas until further notice, officials said.

The state agency in charge of preventing forest fires in Veracruz said five helicopters equipped with tanks completed 139 trips and dumped 229,200 liters of water mixed with fire retardant on the blaze.

The choppers have been flying over the area to evaluate the situation and direct firefighters.

Officials said 568 firefighters have been battling the blaze on the ground, digging firebreaks to prevent the flames from spreading.

The fire started at 7:30 am Monday in Toxtlacoaya, an area outside the city of Las Vigas de Ramirez, officials said.

The blaze burned pinewoods around Cofre de Perote, the eighth-highest mountain in Mexico at 4,282 meters (14,048 feet) above sea level, and a forestry area considered a global model for reforestation.

At least 2,000 residents from five communities were evacuated by the army.

Army troops implemented an emergency plan with the help of local officials and evacuated residents of El Cascajo, Cruz de Rama, San Juan del Monte, Lobera and Hojas Anchas.

Residents were taken to shelters and officials urged people in the surrounding area to take precautions because strong winds were helping the blaze spread.

The blaze later spread to the San Juan del Monte Natural Protected Area, which borders Cofre de Perote National Park, officials said.

Cofre de Perote National Park, covering 11,000 hectares (27,160 acres) in the central mountains of Veracruz, has become a prominent example of sustainable forest management policies implemented with assistance from Finland.

Bosque del Ciclo Verde, on Cofre de Perote’s northeastern slope, was one of the first forestry enterprises in Mexico to adopt the Finnish model and is now among the best operations in terms of productivity.

One type of red pine grown in the area reaches the diameter needed for commercial harvesting in 18 years, compared with 100 years in other countries.

Half the land is used to grow pines for Christmas trees, of which 50,000 are sold each year in December. The other half is a park that encourages the sustainable use of wood and protects diverse wildlife, such as white-tailed deer.

Mexico’s forestry production, however, is still much lower than that of Finland, which produces between 57 million and 60 million cubic meters of wood each year, compared to 5 million cubic meters in Mexico.