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Bolivia struggles to contain fires scorching farms, forests

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian firefighters, members of the military and citizens fighting to protect their homes were battling to contain flames that have ripped through more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of farmland and forests, officials said on Wednesday.

There are more than 26 active fires in Bolivia’s agriculture areas of Santa Cruz and Beni, the government said. Recent rains, however, helped quell potential fires to 1,377, down from 3,128, officials said.

“The firefighters of the armed forces continue, the volunteer firefighters continue and today three helicopters will be incorporated to support the areas where the heat sources are most intense,” said Defense Minister Fernando López, adding that officials now largely have the flames under control.

About 1.1 million hectares (2.7 million acres) have been burned, according to the government, but environmental group Friends of Nature Foundation estimated the fire-affected area at 2.3 million hectares (5.7 million acres) since the start of the year.

The fires so far have not outpaced last year’s fire season, the worst in Bolivia’s history. Regional neighbors Argentina and Brazil are struggling to contain fires that threaten to reach historic levels amid drought and dry weather.

Reporting by Reuters TV and Daniel Ramos, writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Cynthia Osterman