NATIONAL Wildfires in Chile

Chile’s post-fire reconstruction plan begins

Although authorities don’t expect the largest of Chile’s wildfires to be extinguished until the end of February, the president has already appointed someone to handle the reconstruction plan in the regions affected by the fires. The plan will proceed in three stages.

The government of Chile announced on Feb. 13 that the wildfire state of emergency is finally subsiding, but not before this month’s fires made 2023 the second-worst year in terms of hectares burned, as Reuters reports.

Interior Minister Carolina Tohá recently noted, “We have 12 new fires and at some point in this crisis we had 86 new fires in a single day. This means that we are in a better situation [now].”  Such improvement, she added, is due to a slight change in weather conditions, with a small drop in temperature and an increase in humidity.

Wildfires have strained people living in the regions of Maule, Ñuble, Biobío, and La Araucanía since the beginning of February. Thousands of hectares have been consumed by untamable flames that left many homeless and that directly or indirectly killed 24 people. At this time, 312 active outbreaks remain, 98 of which are actively being fought.

Although the state of emergency has passed, Manuel Monsalve, the Interior Minister’s sub-secretary, reported in a press conference that 14 fires with high capacity to continue burning are of particular concern. One of them in the commune of Santa Juana, in the Biobío region, has become the largest in Chile’s recent history, with 64,000 hectares affected. He also warned that high temperatures would soon return to the areas most affected by the fires, worsening conditions. Therefore, the country has had a brief so-called “climate window” in the south-central part of the country within which to more effectively fight the fires near the Metropolitan Region.

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A “definitive and dignified” reconstruction

In the meantime, the post-fire reconstruction has already begun. President Gabriel Boric recently appointed Paulina Saball (former undersecretary and former Minister of Housing to former President Michelle Bachelet) to oversee it. 

It will be a process of “definitive reconstruction, dignified for the people,” Saball said, in an interview with Bío Bío Chile. She and the president also spoke of having emergency housing ready before winter.

Saball said that the speed of the reconstruction is essential for Chile’s recovery after the state of emergency. The plan has three stages.

First, the Chilean government will work on the concept of ‘territorial relevance’. Saball explained that she would “collect the diagnosis on the ground, take the work that ministers have done in each area and start to weave what will be the main points and measures of the process of definitive reconstruction.”

The second stage entails the creation of a consolidated connection between organizations and institutions that exist in the territories, working hand in hand with mayors, presidential delegates, and regional governors.

Finally, the third stage will involve “all hands available, the support of the private sector, academia, civil society and the entire State,” Saball concluded.

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