Dear Friends of EPES and AHA,
Thank you for your words of support and concern about the devastating fires in Chile. As of yesterday, the government informed that there are 148 fires reported: 64 have been controlled, 75 actively being fought and 9 have been extinguished. There are 6,162 people whose homes have been affected by the fires and 1,151 completely destroyed. Tragically, eleven people have been killed : two firefighters, two police, three brigadistas and four civilians.
EPES has been working with communities in Penco to protect their homes and we have been developing a long-term project that we are submitting to ACT Churches Acting Together to try to develop a community based prevention program in both Cerro Las Cañas in Valparaiso and in Penco.
Below is a letter written by Lautaro a few days ago (translated to English) that I think helps explain the origins of the fire and what needs to be done in the future. I am attaching some of the photos our staff in Concepción took when they were visiting Penco.
Gracias for your ongoing support,
Dear Friends of EPES,
Once again Chile is affected by a tragedy of environmental and human origins. This latest disaster that affects Chileans can be traced to serious problems associated to climate change, the voracity of forestry companies and the lack of local, regional and central governmental planning.
At present, seven regions (Coquimbo, Valparaiso, Metropolitan, O’Higgins, Maule, Biobio and Araucania) are affected by intense forest fires that have destroyed residential areas. The National Forestry Service has confirmed that 893,436 acres, consisting of 56 fires now under control, 65 still being fought and one that was extinguished. Locally, in Concepción, 10,131 acres have burned, with the worst damage affecting the rural area of Florida, where small villages have been destroyed.
Several factors are responsible for this tragedy. First of all, climate-related situations such as unusually high temperatures this summer season, low humidity and windy conditions have played a role here. Secondly, factors of human origin also play a part: powerful forestry corporations’ extensive plantations of Oregon pine and eucalyptus, both of which are highly combustible trees, that are planted close to residential areas without firebreaks, as well as the drought, which is exacerbated by these fast-growing tree plantations. In addition, the fires have been intense due to the shortage of material and human resources to adequately fight the advancing flames.
Once the fires come under control, the measures that must be taken to prevent the repetition of this tragedy are clear and key: distance the forestry plantations from residential areas, regulate plantation distribution and location; reforest with native trees, place water storage reserves in remote places, allocate adequate technical and human resources, fire prevention education for the population, and strengthen centralized coordination of resources to deploy in emergencies.
In Concepción the major areas affected by the fires have been Palomares, Tomé (the rural zone), Florida (rural and urban zones), Chaimávida, Penco (La Greda district of Villa Montahue), Chiguayante, Hualqui, Quilacoya, and Talcamávida.
EPES has ample experience in managing emergency situations. During the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of February 2010, EPES implemented a wide-ranging community support program in Penco. Now the same people who had settled into new houses after losing everything seven years were threatened by another disaster. But, all the neighbors came together – creating firebreaks, cutting trees and hosing down the area – and saved their community.
The entire area of Penco is surrounded by plantations of highly inflammable eucalyptus trees. So far our support consists of providing them with face masks and water, which are priorities at this time. We will continue to support the community’s organization and health to ensure safer conditions and prevention on the medium and long term.
Dr. Lautaro López Stefoni
Coordinator EPES Concepción Center
January 27, 2017