US Says Mexican Fire
Disaster 'Worst in the World'
By Timna Tanners
MEXICO CITY (REUTERS) - Raging forest fires in Mexico have reached catastrophic proportions, ravaging virgin tropical jungles and endangering the lives of firefighters, top U.S. officials said Friday.
Only the onset of rains will fully extinguish the flames, they said.
Even as Mexican and U.S. officials cooperate, the traditional "slash and burn" farming method has set off new fires.
"This disaster in Mexico has to be the most serious of its kind in the world, including Indonesia, and the most difficult to fight," U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Brian Atwood said at a breakfast with foreign reporters.
Only long overdue rains can snuff out the worst fires, and initial sprinkles from the rainy season in recent days have yet to make a dent in the most serious blazes, Atwood said.
Some 3,000 firefighters are tackling the flames, and about 60 have died in the effort this year.
While tropical forests and jungles are usually too humid to burn, a drought has left them vulnerable to fire. To make matters worse, wildfires have produced huge quantities of smoke, foiling firefighting efforts by blocking views and access to the blazes.
The U.S. officials lauded Mexican efforts to fight the forest fires across the country.
"They're doing an outstanding job fighting this thing," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said. "The Mexican authorities in my judgment have dealt with this as well as we would have done it."
The United States has sent $8 million of aid to Mexico since mid-May after fires reached crisis proportions, sending smoke as far north as Chicago and as far east as Miami.
On Thursday, smoke wafting north from Mexico sent a black blanket over Texas, once again prompting a health warning advising residents to stay indoors.

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