From: Associated Press
Published January 4, 2006 12:00 AM

Forest Fires Ravage Rare Species in New Caledonia, Worry Environmentalists

PARIS — Fires whipping through rainforests in New Caledonia are wiping out rare plant species and overwhelming firefighters, and environmental groups and local leaders appealed Tuesday for help.


The fires, which have been blazing for nearly two weeks, have engulfed more than 4,000 hectares (11,000 acres) in southern Noumea, the main island on the French Pacific Ocean territory, according to the World Wildlife Fund.


"Several rare plant species are being wiped from the planet," said Regis Dick of WWF. Some unusual plants that thrive in the cobalt- and nickel-rich soil of Noumea are disappearing, and a species of palm exclusive to New Caledonia is also under threat, he said in a telephone interview.


The damage to the rainforests and forests also endangers the animals they house, including local parrot species and the cagou, a bird native to New Caledonia that features on the national emblem, he said.


The small local firefighting force quickly appealed for help. France's government sent a military plane over the weekend loaded with equipment and 82 people, but local leaders said Tuesday that it was not enough.


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"We need human action on these sites, with shovels and material on the ground to get to the root of it," Hamel-Francis Mekachera, a New Caledonia official, told France's LCI television.


Mekachera said helicopters dousing water on the site could not sufficiently soak the charred soil.


Dry, hot weather and strong winds have hampered firefighting efforts and spread the blaze. "But fires are only lit by humans," Dick said.


Source: Associated Press


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