Members of Paraguay’s highway patrol and local residents try to extinguish a fire on 27 September in San Bernardino, east of Asuncion, Paraguay.
© Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images
Members of Paraguay’s highway patrol and local residents try to extinguish a fire on 27 September in San Bernardino, east of Asuncion, Paraguay.
Country faces more than 5,000 fires, with yellow smoke reaching the capital as neighbouring Brazil and Argentina face blazes

Devastating wildfires have broken out across across Paraguay, as drought and record high temperatures continue to exacerbate blazes across South America.

A total of 5,231 individual wildfires broke out across the country on 1 October - up 3,000 on the previous day. Most of were concentrated in the arid Chaco region in the west of the country, but thick yellow smoke had reached as far as the capital, Asunción.

Paraguay's outbreak came as the southern hemisphere heads into summer and neighbouring countries also face unprecedented wildfires. The Brazilian Amazon is recording its worst blazes in a decade, with numbers up 61% on the widely reported fires of last year, and separate fires in the southern Pantanal region.

Argentina has also seen record numbers of fires devastate the wetlands along the Paraná River, with multiple areas of the country continuing to experience aggressive blazes.

Guillermo Achucarro, climate policy researcher at Base-IS research centre in Asunción, said weather conditions were accelerating Paraguay's wildfires.

One of the country's worst droughts of recent decades has seen the River Paraguay - one of its main waterways - drop to 50-year lows. Meanwhile, the country is going through a heatwave, registering a record high temperature of 45.5C (113.9F) last Saturday.

Achucarro said these phenomena were directly linked to Paraguay's environmental record, which sees cattle ranching fuel some of the world's highest rates of deforestation in the ecologically important Chaco.

"There is terrible, inefficient, non-existent environmental management in all areas: water, forested areas, waste management," he said. "Now, we're literally tasting the environmental crisis: we're breathing smoke."

Vice-President Hugo Velázquez claimed that fires were mainly started by citizens burning their domestic waste.

But Cristina Goralewski, head of the National Forestry Institute, said that most fires were linked to burning to clear land for cattle ranching, land invasions and illegal marihuana cultivation.

Achucarro expressed frustration over a lack of state action after 2019 saw fires devastate approximately 325,000 hectares in the Chaco.

"The same thing happens every year, and every year it's as if it were a surprise," he said.

Paraguay's volunteer fire service is struggling to deal with the number of fires and lacks funds and equipment. In many cases, such as an enormous fire at Asunción's main landfill, it has relied on donations from citizens.

Late on Thursday, Paraguay's Congress approved Bills to declare a state of national emergency and to transfer more resources to the fire service. The decision came shortly after the government said it was overwhelmed by the situation and would request international assistance from Chile and Brazil.

As a wildfire raged just metres from the poor neighbourhood of Banco San Miguel in Asunción, locals said official help couldn't come soon enough.

A woman who gave her name as Yanina watched wide-eyed as the flames and smoke moved nearer to her precariously built home. "My bathroom is about to catch on fire and the firefighters are out of water," she said.