Colombia is grappling with a severe environmental crisis as more than 17 thousand hectares of land have been devastated by forest fires since November of last year. Local authorities declared Friday (26/1) that the nation is experiencing its hottest January in decades.

Colombia's Minister of Environment, Susana Muhamad, revealed that over 340 wildfires were recorded during this period, triggered by prolonged drought, high temperatures, and the El NiƱo weather phenomenon. She added that 26 active fire points still persist. Efforts have been made to extinguish fires near the capital since Monday (22/1), including blazes 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 natural park with snow-capped peaks about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of Bogota," Muhamad stated during a press conference, as reported by AFP.

She emphasized that the fire in the park has reached a "significant height," prompting the deployment of helicopters to assess the situation.

Smoke in Bogota

One of the fire points is blazing about 900 meters from the El Paraiso neighborhood in eastern Bogota. Some residents affected by the smoke are receiving medical attention, as reported by the Colombian Red Cross in Bogota on social media, alongside photos of emergency workers assisting a masked man.

President Gustavo Petro declared a natural disaster earlier this week, reallocating funds from other budgets to combat the fires, and requested international assistance.

The El Dorado International Airport in Bogota resumed normal operations on Friday after restrictions the day before 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 would see even higher temperatures, with relief only expected in March when rain could help "mitigate" the impacts of extreme heat.

Authorities are currently investigating whether arsonists are responsible for some of the fires, leading to the arrest of 26 individuals for "fire-related offenses," according to the police.