Chile is facing the worst forest fires it has ever seen, with more than 600 sq miles of land destroyed and thousands of people evacuated from their homes. Eleven people have died in the blazes. The Chilean government has declared a state of emergency in several areas.
Despite support from US and Russian supertanker aircraft and the arrival of specialist teams from other countries, the national emergency office acknowledged on Saturday that fewer than half of the 110 fires are under control.
Entire communities have been razed to the ground. Chile’s capital, Santiago – which is several hundred miles away, is shrouded in haze. Firefighters are trying to prevent the flames from reaching Constitución, a town of 46,000 people.
The local fire chief, Carlos Hernandez, said the consequences would be felt for a long time to come. “It’s going to mark me for the rest of my life,” he said. “We were working, trying to put out fires in houses in the zone right to the end. And then next day, returning to Santa Olga and seeing it completely destroyed. It was as if it had been bombed to smithereens. It was an extremely painful experience. “We’ve got to take lessons from what’s happening; keep the plantations further away from where people live – install more fire-breaks, so that what happened to Santa Olga isn’t repeated.”
More than 110 NGOs demanded the government to put an end of the forest model based on large-scale plantations and denounce corporate responsibility for catastrophe.
The environmental and social organisations denounced the existence of a corruption network behind the fires, and demanded to stop funding the business groups responsible of the fires. Large-scale industrial plantations received multi-million dollar funds paid with public money, as subsidies or fiscal incentives. This lead to a massive and uncontrolled expansion of plantations by a handful of companies with strong ties with the politics.