Massive forest fires rage on in eastern Cuba
By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) - Forest fires raged on in Cuba's eastern region on Monday, inching toward more populated ground more than a week after sparking near a national park.
More than 2,000 hectares of forest, including plantations and coffee crops, have been devoured by the flames, authorities said, as firefighters, park employees and soldiers battled the blaze.
The fires have moved away from the Mensura-Piloto National Park and toward the province of Santiago de Cuba, home of the populous city of the same name, according to officials.
The fires are actively spreading through "a wide area, not just one focal point," said local Communist Party leader Ernesto Santiesteban on state television.
Officials have struggled to put out the fires since they began on Feb. 18. Obstacles include "adverse conditions" and difficult terrain, Santiesteban said.
The economic effect has already been considerable, and recovery of the area could take years, officials say.
The latest fires add to the dozens in January, which authorities said was a higher-than-average figure. Pinar del Rio and Artemisa, in western Cuba, and Camaguey and Holguin, in the central-eastern region, were the areas most affected.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Matthew Lewis)