The disaster explained

Since July 2019 Bolivia has been experiencing fires of unprecedented magnitude. The fires are destroying large areas of primary forest, including protected areas and national parks in lowland Bolivia. The Chiquitanía, a dry forest ecosystem between Amazonia and Gran Chaco in the department of Santa Cruz, has been the centre of the crisis. The impacts on wildlife, biodiversity but also the livelihoods of local and indigenous communities are devastating. Bolivia is experiencing a real national disaster.

The fires have caught locals by surprise and the lack of capacity and preparedness on the ground means they have been rapidly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster.

Huge areas of biodiversity and pristine forests have been lost. The lack of adequate response by the Bolivian Government has only exacerbated the fires. Local communities and residents are angry, and the region fears the outbreak of conflicts.

Forests destroyed

Over 5 million hectares of land has been burnt, most of which are areas of primary forest in the lowlands, east of the Andes mountain range. The fires have spread with tremendous strength, often with flames up to 12m high. When the fires clear a tropical forest, they decimate everything in their path. The hardest hit area is the dry forests of Chiquitania. Bolivia’s rich and varied ecosystems are some of the most biodiverse in the Amazon basin and home to 1000’s of species of flora and fauna, many endemic to the region.

Animals dying

It is estimated that over 4 million animals have died as a direct result of the fires. Bolivia is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, teeming with plant and animal life. Words cannot do justice to the great loss of life happening all over Bolivia right now. Many animals have been found nearly dead and have transported to veterinary centres to receive medical attention, where volunteers desperately try to care for badly burnt animals. Most animals are found  calcined by the fires after they were trapped by flames or smoke.

Human struggle

Here is a video which tells the story of a group of firefighters known as “fish of hell”. They have been working in Concepcion, a town in the lowlands of eastern Bolivia. The documentary tells how this groups of firefighters are surviving the impossible task of trying to put out the fires, equipped with no more than water backpacks and shovels. Several firefighters have already died across Bolivia. Volunteers, even children, are stepping forward in impossible conditions in the effort to save their homes and communities.

Follow the story…


What damage has been caused to forests, animals and human life? The disaster explained with stories from the ground and air.


Discover unique ecosystems, indigenous communities and animal species that are all under attack from man made fires.


How deregulated agricultural practices escalated into a national disaster. Who lit the fires and how they spread.


President Evo Morales refuses to declare a national disaster. Learn the big story behind industry, trade, politics and greed.