Southern Chile has been hit by devastating wildfires

Wildfires in central and southern Chile, caused by extreme temperatures and drought, have already burned over 270,000 hectares of land.

  • Wildfires in southern Chile are causing deaths and destruction in one of the deadliest events ever recorded in the South American country.
  • The flames have laid waste to 270,000 hectares and killed 26 people so far, making 2023 the second-worst year after 2017 in terms of burned area.
  • Over the past ten years, Chile has been in the throes of what has been called a mega-drought due to a chronic lack of water.

The summer in South America and the southern hemisphere is proving to be devastating for Chile because of wildfires. The flames have taken over the woodlands of the country’s central and southern regions, leading to at least 26 deaths and over 2,000 wounded in what has been called one of the deadliest wildfires ever recorded in the Andean country. A decade-long drought has exacerbated the effects of the fire, which has already destroyed over 270,000 hectares of Chilean territory. The dry, hot weather in February 2023 is making firefighters’ jobs even more difficult as they try to tackle the flames.

Record temperatures in Chile

Over 1,000 homes have been destroyed and 280 individual fires were still burning as of 6 February 2023, according to Chile’s disaster response agency Senapred. Over 6,000 Chilean firefighters are trying to put out the flames, with the help of contingents sent over from Spain, Mexico, and Argentina, and over 70 planes and helicopters. “Teams to fight the tragedy, teams to rebuild ourselves,” president Gabriel Boric tweeted.

Weather stations located in the central region reported record temperatures greater than 40°C, according to researchers from the University of Chile in the capital, Santiago. High temperatures and strong winds are forecast over the coming days. The last decade was the hottest since records began in Chile, leading to the mega-drought that has significantly contributed to the ongoing fires. The flames mostly hit the regions of Maule, Ñuble, Bío-Bío and Araucanía, where the majority of Chile’s forests are located. Senapred estimates that so far, the fires have released 4 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, leading to some of the highest emissions in the past 20 years in some regions.

The precedent in 2017

The country’s Minister of the Interior has said that 11 people have been arrested so far for actions linked to the fires, without giving details about the nature of the offences due to the investigations being ongoing. Boric hinted that some of the fires may have been caused by arsonists. The situation seems especially dire for the rare wildlife that lives in the affected areas, which ranges from native species like Darwin’s fox to many threatened species of birds, plants, and trees.

Five years ago, strong winds, high temperatures, and long-term drought conditions had already caused devastating wildfires in Chile during the last two weeks of January 2017. The flames in the central regions of O’Higgins, Maule e Bío Bío destroyed more than 575,000 hectares of land and forced 6,000 people from their homes. Now as then, the fires are inflicting a hard blow on Chile’s agriculture and forestry sectors. The South American country is forced to keep fighting against wildfires, events that are set to happen again if the drought that has hit the country continues.

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