An estimated 80 wildfires have ravaged the country since January, with blazes approaching densely populated Santiago de Cuba.
Large wildfires continue to rage across the island of Cuba, heading towards the province of Santiago de Cuba, home to the country’s second largest city.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced that a high-intensity blaze had been contained near the municipalities of San Luis and Mella, the latter of which saw 250 civilians join forces to contain the flames in the early hours of the morning.
Since January, officials in Cuba have counted an estimated 80 wildfires across the country, with firefighters, military forces and park rangers struggling to bring the burns under control. More than 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres) have been consumed across the island, with farms and coffee crops reportedly destroyed in the flames.
On Monday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel took to Twitter to acknowledge the “heroic struggle” of those battling the fires, praising workers on the front lines of Holguín province, where a pine forest area called Pinares de Mayarí is on fire .
“The courage and sacrifice of the firefighters, foresters and residents who brave the fires that devour the beautiful and precious forests of the eastern region in Pinares de Mayarí is amazing,” Díaz-Canel wrote.
Officials on state television have said the fires are spreading over “a wide area, not just one focal point.” Some of the hardest hit provinces are Pinar del Río and Artemisa in the west and Camagüey and Holguín in the east.
The fires had previously threatened Cuba’s Mensura-Piloto National Park, a 6,046 hectares (14,940 acres) sensitive ecological region known for its forested mountains and waterfalls.
Cuba’s mountainous terrain and ongoing drought have hampered efforts to extinguish the flames, with officials warning that it could take years for the country to recover from the devastation.
The country is in the middle of its worst economic crisis in decades, with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to a sudden decline in the tourism industry, one of the most important economic drivers. In 2020 alone, the Cuban economy contracted by 11 percent, the largest decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Under former President Donald Trump, the United States also conducted a campaign of “maximum pressure” on Cuba, stepping up sanctions and repealing policies designed under his predecessor, Barack Obama, to ease tensions between the two countries .
Cuba’s struggling economy has led to one of the largest migration crises in the country’s history, as well as shortages of food and other basic necessities.