The ruling Frente de Todos coalition wants to change Argentina's national fire management law to prevent terrain destroyed in raging bush and forest fires from being repurposed for new commercial uses.
The government’s bill, which entered Congress late Friday, seeks to modify sections of the National Fire Management Law (No. 26.825) in an attempt to prevent business interests from moving in on fire-destroyed land. It is being overseen by the head of the lower house Peronist bloc, Máximo Kirchner.
The government is seeking to prevent agricultural and real-estate companies from benefiting from the destruction and clearance of land devastated by fires. In a statement, Kirchner said the bill would be debated at commission stage with "the participation of all sectors involved and all the political spaces," allowing it to be analysed and "enriched."
The proposed modifications to the national fire management law would ban changes in agricultural activity, real-estate development and any other type of activity different from a fire-affected territory’s original use. The protection would apply for 60 years in the case of “native or implanted forests, protected areas and wetlands,” and 30 years for “agricultural areas, prairies, grasslands and shrubs.”
Kirchner said the bill was intended to protect ecosystems that had fallen victim to fires and guarantee their restoration, while also discouraging the intentional setting of fires.
The move comes with at least 11 provinces in Argentina ablaze, with multiple incendiary outbreaks in each region.
Forest and bush fires continued to rage in Córdoba Province over the weekend, where firefighters are fighting back the flames around the clock. Provincial officials issued new alerts to residents Sunday as the fires, which have generally been in rural and forest areas, creep closer to urban centres.
Many of the fires nationwide have been started deliberately, according to officials. Police in Córdoba said on Sunday that at least one individual had been arrested, all but caught in the act by officers.
Environment Minister Juan Cabandié has called for legal action to be taken against the alleged culprits.
"We want to stop the ecocide and prevent these tragedies from recurring," said Frente de Todos lawmaker Marcos Cleri, one of the bill’s signatories.
"We intend to attack one of the causes of the fires, which is the real-estate business. We have seen that years after the fires there are beginning to be proliferations of private neighbourhoods and houses-villas," agreed fellow Peronist deputy Leonardo Grosso, the head of the Natural Resources Commission.
Juntos por el Cambio lawmakers are not planning to support the government’s bill, though other opposition blocs in the house have said they may endorse it.
Lawmakers from the Civic Coalition-ARI bloc have formally asked Cabandié to visit the Chamber of Deputies to update the chamber on the progress of the fires and the potential implementation of a fire management law.
Fires have been raging all year in Argentina. In the first nine months of the year, more than 434,000 hectares nationwide have been hit by forest and bush fires, with 11 provinces in total bearing the brunt.
The most affected region is Entre Ríos, which had lost 165,108 hectares to fires this year through to mid-September, according to official data compiled by the National Fire Management Service.
More recently Córdoba has been more the focus of news coverage with images of its 48,410 hectares ablaze, a disaster which claimed at least two lives. Río Negro (35,527 hectares) and Santa Fe (28,950) have also been hit hard.
"Ninety-five percent of forest fires are caused by human intervention, such as the preparation of grazing areas with fire, bonfires and badly extinguished cigarette butts and the abandonment of land," the Environment Ministry said in a statement.
One of the most affected regions this year is Argentina’s famed Paraná delta, one of the largest and most biodiverse regions in the world, where 700 species coexist. More than 165,000 hectares have been burned there.
Alleged perpetrator arrested
Authorities in Córdoba Province announced Sunday that they had arrested one individual on suspicions he was involved in setting fires alight.
The arrest took place in the Los Algarrobos Norte area, close to the 14th kilometre of Ruta 34, the provincial Security Ministry said in a statement. The alleged perpetrator is in custody, it added, without specifying further details.
According to officials, after receiving a tip-off, police officers went on foot to the area, where a “smoke column” was observed. The individuals was found closeby, attempting to hid.
"The apprehended [individual] was transferred" to a local police station and "placed at the disposal of judicial officials," read the statement, which said that more than 15 firefighters then battled to put out the fire.