Forest fires threaten Bolivia's nature reserves

STORY: At least 16 major fires in the department of Santa Cruz and another four in the department of Beni grew on Wednesday, propelled by more than 90 km (56 mile) per hour winds, leading the country's meteorology service to issue warnings.

The fires in Santa Cruz's forests, which include three protected areas, showed no sign of stopping despite the work of hundreds of firefighters, residents and volunteers.

Santa Cruz's national resource coordinator, Yovenka Rosado, said a helicopter will be brought in to aid firefighting efforts. Close to a dozen municipalities in Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia have declared a "forest fire disaster," she said.

"73% of the department (of Santa Cruz) present extreme risk of occurrence of forest fires," Rosado said.

Firefighters, army personnel and volunteers are also working around the clock to fight forest fires in northern Bolivia in the department of Beni as well. They are digging fire lanes using heavy machinery to stop the blazes from spreading through the plains and forest, according to the federal forest and land commission technician in Beni, Sandro Enriquez.

Four municipalities in Beni have declared a state of emergency. The fires in the department have already destroyed more than 4,500 hectares (11,120 acres).

Beni's main cities were covered in a blanket of thick smoke, choking inhabitants.