Chile’s central valleys are battling several forest fires which have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests and agriculture land in two weeks. As stories of damaged vineyards begin to surface, the intensity of the fires has escalated over the weekend moving from ‘red alert’ to a national ‘catastrophe’ affecting over 450,000 hectares.
The hot weather (with days over 40°C), prolonged drought and windy conditions have meant that the fires are spreading at speeds of up to 4,200 meters an hour. Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in the regions of Colchagua and Maule and people are being advised to stay indoors to protect themselves from the smoke pollution and dangerous ash in the sky. There is so much smoke from the fires that last Wednesday the NASA space station captured images of the smoke from space.
Around the country there are almost 50 fires still blazing and volunteer fire fighters and the national forest corporation (CONAF) have been deployed over several regions. Over the weekend, and after growing local pressure, the government requested foreign aid to help extinguish the fires by declaring a ‘state of catastrophe’.
However many locals believe the upgrading of the fires to a national disaster and request for national aid is simply too little, too late. “This decision was taken way too late – we were calling for help since Monday,” says William Arévalo, the mayor of Santa Cruz, one of the worst affected areas. “We haven’t had any response from the government until now. We have been an entire week with this inferno. We have lost thousands of hectares of native forests.”
The fires this week are considered one of the worst wildfires in Chile’s history and the land will take over a decade to recover and regrow.
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For CONAF’s latest reports on the fire situation, you can read this link.