Forest fires have destroyed more than 13,820 hectares (34,550 acres) since last June in Colombia, which is facing a very dry season intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon, the National Disaster Management Office, or UNGRD, said in a report.

A total of 440 fires have broken out during this period, which began on June 1, the UNGRD said.

Of that total, four remain active, among them one in the rural part of Argelia, a town in southwestern Cauca province, where the armed conflict between the government and guerrilla groups has affected efforts to extinguish the flames.

The activities to control the fire in Argelia, which has been burning for more than two weeks, are being undertaken by personnel from the emergency management office and local volunteers, a UNGRD official told Efe.

To make additional progress against the blaze, it will be necessary for more firefighting personnel to be able to work in the region without danger from the fighting, the official said, adding that UNGRD director Carlos Ivan Marquez has felt that the help of the International Red Cross would be beneficial.

The fires this season have affected 180 municipalities in 22 of the country's 32 provinces, according to the same source, who added that a red alert for additional fires has been issued for 12 of the affected regions.

The UNGRD said that it is paying "special attention to five national nature parks and two flora and fauna sanctuaries ... located in different regions."

Among them are high plateau reserves that have been affected by fires.

The dry season "is about to end" and will soon give way to the second rainy period of the year, which will last until December, Marquez said.

The first three months of 2013, however, will be very dry, he went on to say.

The weather service has forecast that Colombia from January through March next year will suffer a very pronounced drought due to the effect of El Niño, a weather phenomenon that appears when the Pacific Ocean heats up slightly. EFE