SANTIAGO — With summer approaching, many forest fires are expected to occur in the coming months. President Piñera declared a State of Emergency until May 2021, from the region of Atacama in the north to Magallanes in the south. The measure only excludes two regions of the country.
The government declared a preventive State of Emergency in 14 of the 16 regions, due to a risk of forest fires developing in the coming months. The measure was announced through a document signed by President Sebastián Piñera and Interior Minister Víctor Pérez.
The measure seeks to provide “technical and financial resources necessary for a timely operational response,” for the prevention and combat of the fires.
The document states that from October 2020 to May 2021, the regions that will be under the state of emergency are: Atacama, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, O’Higgins, Maule, Ñuble, Biobío, Araucanía, Los Ríos, Los Lagos, Aysén, Magallanes and the Metropolitan Region.
More Fires Than Past Years
Drought, rising temperatures, and a decrease in rainfall are some of the reasons forest fires are expected to be much worse than in past years. Minister of Agriculture, Antonio Walker, told Radio Agricultura that spring and summer will be “very tough fire seasons. That is why we want to ask Chileans to help prevent fires … the best fire is the one that does not occur.”
However, human efforts to prevent fires may not be enough. In the document where the State of Emergency was declared, the government provided reasons for the measure and said that the risk of fires between the regions of Atacama and Magallanes is largely due to the “extended drought that the country has registered for the tenth consecutive year.”
The executive director of the National Forest Service (Conaf) warned of the tough fire season ahead at the beginning of the year. In March, he told news outlet Biobío that Chile “could replicate the catastrophe occurred in Australia’s wildfires,” and that it could even be worse because Chile’s drought is more severe. The agency recently doubled its resources to face the expected fires.
Conaf reported that 116 forest fires were registered only between July and September. That is 7 percent up from the same period last year.
With the State of Emergency, the government hopes to equip the relevant state departments with the essential elements for efficient action … to tackle the fires that threaten national parks and forest reserves.”
Two Cities Under Red Alert
The Valparaíso region is known for having registered numerous forest fires in the past years. In 2019, over 2,000 hectares of forest burned down in the region, as well as nearly 250 houses. Last weekend, authorities declared the first red alert of the region.
The Municipality of Valparaíso issued a red alert for Zapallar and Papudo on Oct. 4, as a forest fire was affecting a natural barrier hill between the cities. The fire consumed over 150 hectares. However, it was contained and the alert was lifted.
Conaf authorities, who combated the fire, said that the climate change and topographic factors complicated fire fighting. “With the increase in temperature and wind direction changes, the fires spread,” Sandro Bruzzone, regional director of Conaf, told Biobío news outlet.
Even though the red alert was lifted, amid rising temperatures, the “Preventive Early Warning” remains for the provinces of Quillota, San Felipe, Los Andes and Marga-Marga, and the cities of La Ligua, Petorca, Papudo, Cabildo, Casablanca and Puchuncaví.
Edited by Claudio Moraga
Fernanda Gándara is currently finishing her journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She’s passionate about writing, environmental issues and women empowerment. You can find her on Twitter as @FerGMarchant