Article | Wildfires in Chile: Valparaíso and Fire Storm

By: Francisca Yunis Richter

Published on September 9, 2022

According to the report “Fires in Chile: causes, impacts and resilience” of the Center for Climate Science and Resilience (CR)2, during the last two decades, extremely destructive and difficult to control wildfires have impacted the central-southern region of Chile , which has generated serious social, economic and environmental impacts. Different studies indicate that human activity and changes in land use affect the magnitude of fires, with clear evidence that they are also exacerbated by the climate crisis. The prolonged and extensive drought of the last decade, accompanied by intense heat waves, have contributed to the drying and/or mortality of vegetation, extension of the fire season, and a higher incidence of fire weather.

The urban-rural interface in Chile, where human settlements with various forest ecosystems are found, comprise 5% of the national territory. Within this framework, 60% of wildfires spread within these areas, therefore, they are considered high risk territories. Prevention, mitigation and response strategies are key to reducing the risk of wildfires, where territorial planning, the regulatory framework for the densification and construction of human settlements, the management of the landscape and its vegetation, play a fundamental role, improving the sustainability and resilience of high-risk areas.

During the last two decades, the wildfire seasons, especially in the regions of Valparaíso, Maule, O’higgins, BioBío and Araucanía, have been increasingly intense and extensive, where between 1985 and 2018 there have been 22 megafires, that have devastated 543,000 hectares.

Wildfires in Valparaíso

The National Forest Corporation statistics (CONAF, 2019), indicates that the Valparaíso region has become a negative icon in the problem of wildfires, registering approximately 18,000 fires in the last 20 years, corresponding to 14.9% of all the events that occurred at the national level between the years 1999 and 2019 (González – Quintana 2020).

Table 1: National Occurrence of Forest Fires 1999-2019 (González – Quintana 2020).

Great Fire of Valparaíso 2014

A large-scale urban incident that originated on April 12, 2014 in the “La Pólvora” road sector, which generated a wildfire that affected the forest area of ​​the population settled in the highest areas of the Mariposas, Monjas, La Cruz, El Litre, Ramaditas, Las Cañas, Merced and Rocuant hills (González – Quintana 2020), destroying 1,042 hectares, leaving 2,910 homes destroyed, 12,000 lost their homes, 15 fatalities and more than 500 injured (Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, 2014, p 5). The most relevant factors, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security (2014), that influence the behavior of fire and the damage caused in the populations of the hills of Valparaíso, are mainly the growth of informal urban settlements and the difficulty to access to areas affected because of topographical conditions.

It was one of the most disastrous wildfires recorded in Chile. The incident was active from April 12 to 16, 2014. It only burned 926 hectares, but affected 11 of the 42 hills of Valparaíso, leaving more than 2,900 houses destroyed and more than 12,500 displaced (Reszka & Fuentes, 2015).

This event indirectly led to changes in the integration of wildfire disaster risk management and spatial planning.

Laguna Verde wildfire, Valparaiso 2017

Fire originated in the Laguna Verde sector, inValparaíso, spreading to Puertas Negras and other locations in the commune. The wildfire destroyed around 50 hectares, 100 houses, injured 19 and displaced more than 400 people.

Videos made by: Jorge León and Sebastián Sanhueza
Laguna Verde wildfire, Valparaiso 2017

Fire storm 2017

At the beginning of 2017, the regions of the central-southern zone of Chile, O’higgins, Maule and BioBío, were affected by megafires, where the active fire sources simultaneously reached more than 500; with a continuous territorial extension of approximately 500 kilometers; an extreme climate, where temperatures ranged between 35ºC and 40ºC, relative humidity below 30%, and significant variations in the wind regime. This combination of climatic conditions gave rise to the “Fire Storm” (Galilea Ocón, 2019). It is currently considered one of the worst wildfires recorded in the history of Chile, devastating 546,677 hectares, destroying 2,831 buildings, displacing more than 8,129 people and causing 11 deaths.

Santa Olga Wildfire, 2017

After the wildfires that occurred in Chile during the summer of 2017, Santa Olga, a town of 5,000 inhabitants located in the Maule region, was completely destroyed. No dwelling was registered as repairable after the passage of the fire (Galilea Ocón, S. (2019). Santa Olga, Los Aromos and Altos de Morán, were the most affected localities within the Constitución commune, where the fires destroyed 979 dwellings , 8 fatalities and completely evacuating the town of Santa Olga. The reconstruction process involved public-private cooperation and working side by side with a community that suffered from much deeper vulnerabilities than the simple socioeconomic level (Román, 2020).

Credir: El Mercurio
Wildfire animation Las Maquinas (Maule Region) – CONAF

References

González Aliste, F., y Quintana Jara, Y. (2020). Análisis de impacto del incendio de 2014 en la región de Vergel, Valparaíso. Revista Geográfica De Chile Terra Australis, 56(1), 41–61. https://doi.org/10.23854/07199562.2020561. González41

Ministerio del Interior y Seguridad Pública. (2014). Plan de Inversiones Reconstrucción y Rehabilitación Urbana:Valparaíso 2014.

González, M.E., Sapiains, R., Gómez-González, S., Garreaud, R., Miranda, A., Galleguillos, M., Jacques, M., Pauchard, A., Hoyos, J., Cordero, L., Vásquez, F., Lara, A., Aldunce, P., Delgado, V., Arriagada, Ugarte, A.M., Sepúlveda, A., Farías, L., García, R., Rondanelli, R.,J., Ponce, R.,Vargas, F., Rojas, M., Boisier, J.P., C., Carrasco, Little, C., Osses, M., Zamorano, C., Díaz-Hormazábal, I., Ceballos, A., Guerra, E., Moncada, M., Castillo, I . (2020). Incendios forestales en Chile: causas, impactos y resiliencia. Centro de Ciencia del Clima y la Resiliencia (CR)2, (ANID/FONDAP/15110009), 84 pp. Disponible en https://www.cr2.cl/incendios/

Reszka, P., Fuentes, A. (2014). The Great Valparaiso Fire and Fire Safety Management in Chile. Fire Technology. 10.1007/s10694-014-0427-0.

Galilea Ocón, S. (2019).La tormenta de fuego y la Nueva Santa Olga. Disponible en https://repositorio.uchile.cl/handle/2250/168038

Román, J. La vulnerabilidad multidimensional de Santa Olga. Itrend [Internet]. 16 de abril de 2020 [citado 6 de septiembre de 2022]; Disponible aquí.

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