The Heat Is Online

Mexican drought May, 1998

"Mexico gets some rain but fires rage on", Reuters, May 27, 1998

By Maja Wallengren

MEXICO CITY - Light rain fell across some parts of Mexico on Tuesday but brush fires continued their path of destruction across much of the country, claiming pristine jungle and blackening the skies.

Officials said they had put out most of the biggest fires, but had to contend with at least 300 new fires each day that kept popping up due to intense heat and the country's worst drought in 70 years.

Smoke from the fires aggravated already thick smog in Mexico City, which extended an environmental emergency to Wednesday after pollution reached dangerous levels for the fourth day in a row.

Environmental minister Julia Carabias said late on Monday that no major rains were expected for at least two more weeks, raising the toll for the stricken agricultural sector.

"We are bracing for two dark weeks," she told a university gathering in the capital.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported progress against the biggest fires in southern Oaxaca and Chiapas states, which have invaded Mexico's largest remaining tracts of virgin tropical rainforest and threatened endangered jaguars and monkeys.

"There is progress. According to our latest information, of the 41 major fires more than half are now under control, and it has started raining in (the southern state of) Chiapas," said Guillermo Castilleja, head of the WWF office in Mexico.

The drought, blamed on the unusually dry conditions brought by the El Nino warm water current in the Pacific Ocean, have plagued Mexico and Central America since December and caused seasonal land-clearing fires to burn out of control.

Mexico's National Weather Service said Chiapas and neighbouring Oaxaca state had received small amounts of rain Sunday and Monday, and light rain was expected to continue during this week.

But officials said they did not expect significant rainfall before June, especially in the rest of the parched country.

"There has been some rain ... but it's still very thin," one meteorologist told Reuters.

(C) Reuters Limited 1998.