Bolivia enlists 'supertanker' plane to battle wildfires

La Paz (AFP) –


Bolivia took delivery Friday of a "supertanker" aircraft to help fight wildfires that have devastated vast swathes of forest and agricultural land.

The government hired the Boeing 747-400 plane after failing to extinguish fires that have destroyed around 7,770 square kilometers (3,000 square miles) of the eastern province of Santa Cruz for the past month.

The Boeing, leased from a US company, can carry 150,000 liters (40,000 gallons) of water or fire retardant, said Bolivia's vice-president Alvaro Garcia.

Garcia is leading the government's emergency task force on the fires in the South American country, where farmers traditionally raze grassland to improve the soil.

Air Force planes began reconnaissance flights Friday to determine where the Boeing can most effectively drop its huge payload.

"Four aircraft left to survey six places" in the eastern province of Santa Cruz, said Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta.

Bolivia has urged neighbors Paraguay and Brazil to take counter measures to prevent the spread of fires along their common border.

Wildfires raging in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have sparked a global outcry.

Bolivia's meteorological service has forecast rain for the areas affected by the fires on Sunday night.