Wildfire in rainforest in Peruvian Amazon rages toward protected areas

LIMA (Reuters) - A wildfire burning in the Peruvian Amazon that has charred some 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) of rainforest and destroyed crops planted by indigenous communities was raging toward a national park and another protected area, authorities said on Thursday.

Firefighters battled hot-spots spanning 20 kilometers (12 miles) along the Ene River in the jungle region of Junin, said Julio Jeri, an official with Peru’s forest service SERFOR. He said the first rainfall in weeks did not appear to have contained the blaze.

Some 14 hectares of native croplands have been destroyed and protected areas for the Ashaninka Amazonian tribe and the Otishi National Park were in the fire’s path, he said.

About a tenth of the Amazonian rainforest is in Peru. Less rain due to climate change and last year’s El Nino weather pattern have made the Amazon drier than usual, scientists have said.

The fire likely started over the weekend as indigenous farmers were burning debris to prepare lands for planting, Jeri said. Forest officials became aware of the fire on Monday.

No injuries or deaths had been reported by Thursday. The region is sparsely populated and villages did not appear to be in harm’s way, Jeri said.

Climate change likely increased the risk of wildfires spreading rapidly in the region, said SERFOR director Fabiola Munoz. “The forest is very dry in that area. It hadn’t rained for several weeks,” he said. “We’re worried it might go further.”

Reporting By Mitra Taj; Editing by Toni Reinhold