Colombia turns drug-fumigation planes into fire fighters

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 5:22 PM

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia on Wednesday added eight aircraft, some previously used to fumigate drug crops, to its fire-fighting fleet as it braces for more dry El Nino weather that has stoked major wildfires.

President Gustavo Petro declared a natural disaster in January as fires ravaged areas of the world’s second-most bio-diverse country.

Petro attended an event in Tolima province displaying the four AT-802 Air Tractor planes and four Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters, originally donated by top ally the United States, that were refitted to drop water and chemicals to quell flames.

The planes were used to spray the herbicide glyphosate on illegal plantations of coca, the chief ingredient in cocaine, until 2015 when the flights were stopped due to health concerns related to the chemical.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)