The fire that started last weekend in the La Primavera forest outside the western Mexican city of Guadalajara burned between 30 percent and 40 percent of the trees in an area of about 3,000 hectares (7,407 acres), Environment Secretary Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada said Thursday.
On Wednesday night, “we received confirmation that this fire, which caused much damage, was 100 percent under control. It was nearly 7,800 hectares (19,259 acres), of which it is estimated that the tree damage was from 30 to 40 percent. The rest was pastures and minor vegetation,” the environment secretary told MVS radio.
“The damage was huge” because the blaze affected La Primavera and created “an environmental emergency due to the bad air quality,” causing problems for residents of Guadalajara, the capital of Jalisco state, Elvira Quesada said.
“We expect that today, perhaps this afternoon, it will be completely out,” the environment secretary said, adding that 900 people, many of them from the emergency management agencies in other states, worked to put out the fire.
The fire started due to “the hand of man, it was not a natural cause,” but the original blaze and later fires that started while firefighting teams tried to bring the blaze under control are being investigated, Elvira Quesada said.
One person has been arrested and the federal Attorney General’s Office has started an investigation, the environment secretary said.
Mexico must change its legislation to control the use of fire “in open spaces” and prevent future disasters in natural areas, Elvira Quesada said.
From January to May, the normal dry season in Mexico, there should be “intense participation, not just by state and municipal police, but also by citizens, in guarding the forests,” the environment secretary said.
“This must be investigated fully, to the end,” Elvira Quesada said in response to a question about whether criminal organizations were behind the fire and reports that firefighters had been threatened.
Jalisco Rural Development Secretary Alvaro Garcia Chavez told MVS on Monday that threats from gunmen prevented the deployment of some of the teams sent to fight the fire in La Primavera.
Private landholdings within the federally protected forest should have their deeds amended to show that the properties “are headed over the next 20 years into forest conservation and cannot be changed,” Elvira Quesada said.
“We have to update (the law), keeping in mind what the forest really needs, and I believe at this time that permanent vigilance is an essential part of that,” the environment secretary said.
President Felipe Calderon, who visited the United States this week, plans to travel to Jalisco on Thursday to get a firsthand look at the damage caused by the fire.
Initial reports said the fire was apparently started by people burning trash at an illegal dump in Arenales Tapatios, an area near the forest.
The fire, which started on Saturday morning, is the worst to hit Jalisco in the past six years, officials said.
The fire burned through pastures, dead leaves, bushes and trees in several sections of the forest, the National Forestry Commission, or Conafor, said.
La Primavera, located in Zapopan, is considered “the lungs” of the Guadalajara metropolitan area because it is the only nature reserve near the large city.