CLIMATE NATIONAL

Thousands of hectares destroyed by forest fires in southern Chile

Southern regions in Chile have suffered from severe forest fires in recent days. A dry winter and rising summer temperatures are making the fires harder to fight. In several regions, Code Red Alerts remain active as fires are still not under control.

Nearly 200 fires have been reported in Chile this year, a major increase compared to last year. Tens of thousands of hectares of land have been destroyed, the majority in central and southern regions of the country. According to Chile’s Minister of Agriculture María Emilia Undurraga, many farmers have also lost their crops.

The reasons forest fires are ravaging the country more than last year are the unusually dry winter Chile experienced – after years of increasing drought – and the rising summer temperatures in the country. Other reasons mentioned by authorities include the presence of pine and eucalyptus plantations in the south. Such trees consume lots of water and cause the ground to dry. Farmers burning old crops and people holding outside barbecues also accidentally cause forest fires. And, as to one of the biggest fires last week, in the Araucanía region, and in others earlier this year, authorities see arson as the cause.

Miguel Ortiz, head of emergency office Onemi, told news site Cooperativa that the number of forest fires registered in Chile this year was 300 percent higher than in 2020. Ortiz added that, in fighting such fires, authorities focused on protecting nearby towns and homes.

As of now, Red Alerts are still active in Quillón in the Biobío Region and in four municipalities in the La Araucanía Region. However, the region that has notched the biggest increase in forest fires is Los Lagos, where so far 179 fires have been registered, against 58 last year. Another region that saw a massive increase in the number of forest fires is Los Ríos, where 32 have been registered, against just 16 last year.

Although forest fires aren’t new to Chile, the intense drought the country has experienced in recent years, together with the lumber plantations, make the central- and southern- regions of the country especially flammable. With the hottest months ahead (January and February), Chile braces for another destructive forest fire season.

 

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