Horrific Forest Fires in Chile

By: Taylor Standring—Correspondent

Forest fires across Chile have left 24 people dead and continue to swallow up hundreds of houses across the country. 

The Chilean government has put three central regions on high alert of forest fires amidst a dangerous heatwave. The fires have burned across more than 2700 square kilometers, destroying more than 1000 homes. Over 300 fires are still active according to Chile’s disaster response agency, the National Service for the Protection, Mitigation, and the Prevention of Natural Disasters (SENAPRED). Over 6,000 firefighters, many of them being volunteers, are on the ground trying to battle the flames, including 90 that are raging out of control, according to officials. Now it is feared that more forecasted high temperatures could spark new fires in more areas.

Weather stations in Chile report near record temperatures of above 104 ℉ (40℃) that are clearly detrimental to the lands of Chile. “So far, more than 889,000 acres of forests have been destroyed in the Andean nation,” Chile’s Interior Minister Carolina Tohá confirmed to ABC News.

President Gabriel Borić addressed the issue by declaring a national emergency. “The protection of families is our priority. We are working in coordination with local and national authorities to fight the forest fires that affect the Maule, Ñuble, Biobío and La Araucanía regions,” Borić said.

The Chilean Meteorological Directorate has issued yellow high temperature warnings across much of Biobío, Maule, and Ñuble regions. Due to the high temperatures and dry conditions forecast over the coming days, further wildfire growth is likely. 

Multiple health and safety warnings have been sent out describing the severity of the smoke. “The smoke from these fires can hurt the eyes, irritate the respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke may also worsen symptoms for people with preexisting respiratory conditions, such as allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),” said the World Health Organization (WHO).

The drought that has taken hold in Chile has been brought on by a mix of climate change and a Pacific Ocean weather condition called La Niña. “The combination of these conditions have allowed for stronger winds from the ocean to delve deeper into Chile and has been the catalyst for the spread of these fires,” weather experts said. 

These fires are hard to extinguish due to the ravaging conditions of the weather. The heat wave and strong winds persist which makes it complicated to put out these damaging fires. “Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out [the fires] that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Tohá said.

The US along with many South American countries have sent aid to Chile. The United States has sent a DC-10 Air Tanker aircraft with capacity of 36,000 liters to help contain the wildfires. Chilean President Gabriel Borić also put out a statement to thank Brazil in particular for offering $672,000 in aid along with an airforce jet full of firefighting equipment, personnel and experts. “Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, The United States, Mexico, and Spain have already provided some form of logistics and material support,” Tohá said.

There are rehabilitation centers set up all around Chillán, the capital of the Ñuble region, to treat the severe burns of the native fauna. “We try to stabilize them, treat them, relieve pain from the burns they suffered, and ideally rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild,” Tohá said.

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