Research | Long-established rules and emergent challenges: spatial planning and wildfires in Chile

By: Francisca Yunis Richter, based on the research “Long-established rules and emergent challenges: spatial planning and wildfires in Chile”, developed by Dr. Constanza González-Mathiesen from Universidad del Desarrollo and Professor Alan March from Melbourne University, published by Taylor & Francis Online platform, on October 31 2022.

This study compares spatial planning and wildfire risk reduction measures based on five key dimensions: structure, realm, spatial scale, territorial boundaries, and time scale to investigate spatial planning limitations to the integration of wildfire risk reduction measures (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022). Here you can access the full research:

Published on December 12, 2022

“It is generally expected that spatial planning integrates wildfire risk reduction considerations in areas affected by this hazard. However, many spatial planning systems are challenged to adequately deal with this risk. There is a need for applied understandings of planning systems characteristics that facilitate or impede wildfire risk reduction”

(González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

Using Chile’s spatial planning system as an example, this study demonstrates the constraints of a long-established, predetermined, and restrictive spatial planning system in integrating forest fire risk reduction measures and actions. It contrasts important aspects of wildfire risk reduction and spatial planning. The analysis reveals gaps and tensions between Chile’s spatial planning system and essential aspects of wildfire risk reduction (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

The Chilean spatial planning system was studied using a qualitative case study strategy, with qualitative content analysis of key documents. The findings show that Chile’s spatial planning has long-established characteristics that restrict its capacity to incorporate wildfire risk reduction measures in the 5 dimensions studied. The research helps to understand some of the constraints of spatial planning in order to manage larger and more complex challenges (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

Spatial planning is a process of dealing with the consequences of spatial problems and the spatial alignment of policies in order to consciously create greater settlements. Currently, territorial planning is expected to manage dynamic and physical aspects of shared spaces. However, there are cases when territorial planning works within a framework limited by the historical context, including laws and regulations, agencies, funding, technical and political processes, solutions, and economic systems. Consequently, when faced with new challenges, which do not conform to predetermined planning mechanisms, planners frequently struggle to adopt changes and become trapped in the rigidity of predetermined planning systems that prevent them from adjusting and shifting (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

The framing tools for the Chilean spatial planning system are centrally established at the national level, while the majority of spatial plans are created and implemented at the local level under the guidance of ministerial regional offices. However, the Chilean spatial planning system does not adequately address wildfire disaster risk reduction (DRR). Some municipalities located in high-risk areas, incorporate their concerns in local plans, usually in relation to managing the vegetation and creating a buffer zone around the settlements (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

“As a response to the 2017 fires, there is an ongoing bill to create the Servicio Nacional Forestal (SERNAFOR) and modify the National Planning Law (LGUC), to better address disaster risks and to include wildfire hazard. However, at the time of submitting this article, almost five years have passed since the SERNAFOR bill was initiated in Congress and no concrete progress has been made so far” (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

These attempts at transformation imply that there is a greater understanding of what Chilean spatial planning must achieve to manage wildfire hazards. However, this also demonstrates that no significant adjustments to the spatial planning system have been made to integrate wildfire risk considerations, and wildfires continue to be a difficult and emerging challenge for the Chilean spatial planning system (González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).

Figure 1: PRC of Portezuelo approved in 2007 and its zone of wildfire restriction surrounding the settlement versus the actual footprint of the settlement (Source: adapted from Google Earth, 2020a; Municipalidad de Portezuelo, 2007).
Figure 2: Villa Mañihuales and a forest plantation inside the settlement (Source: adapted from Google Earth, 2020b; MINVU, n.d.)
Figure 3: Image showing an example of a typical development of 5000 m2 lots in rural land located in the route between Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt. (Source: adapted from Google Earth, 2022).
Table 1: Summary of the differences between Chile’s spatial planning system and wildfire risk reduction measures (Source: González-Mathiesen & March, 2022).


Gonzalez-Mathiesen, C. March, A. (2022): Long-established rules and emergent challenges: spatial planning and wildfires in Chile, International Planning Studies. Available at: (Accessed on November 30, 2022)

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