On the afternoon of January 2nd, around 400 people were forced to evacuate Valparaíso, a coastal port city in central Chile, due to a forest fire that entered a hillside neighborhood. Local officials believe the fire began at a fisherman’s club and then traveled into the residential area. As of Tuesday morning, January 3rd, around 100 homes were estimated destroyed with another 500 still at risk, as smoke continues to climb into the skies above the town.
Thus far, no deaths have been reported and the 19 minor injuries are thought to be mostly due to smoke inhalation. News footage shows harrowing video of citizens carrying a variety of items out of their homes, hoping some will be salvageable, including mattresses, entertainment centers, and appliances.
Active History of Wildfires
This area of Chile is no stranger to the threat of wildfire. It regularly has an active fire season beginning in November, peaking in January or February, and then decreasing around April. Typically, nearly all wildfires in this region are caused by humans, as lightning and other traditional natural causes are not prevalent in the area.
Chile has also received significantly less rainfall in the last year due to the transition from El Niño to La Niña. The current drought (referred to as megasequía, or ‘mega-drought’) is the longest and most extensive drought in Chilean history, now spanning the past 6 years. The arid weather further dries out the fuels, making any wildland fire a potentially fast-growing danger to surrounding towns.
The 2014 Great Fire of Valparaíso
April of 2014 saw one of the more notable fires in the area’s history. What is now commonly known as the “Great Fire of Valparaíso” burned across an unofficial landfill area into surrounding vegetation and residential areas. Over 3 square miles (nearly 2,000 acres) burned, destroying more than 2,500 homes and leaving an estimated 11,000 people displaced. An additional 6,000 people were forced to evacuate. Fifteen people were killed and ten reported serious injuries. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
To read further details on the active wildfire history of Chile, please visit the sources below.
- France 24 News, 3 January 2017: http://www.france24.com/en/20170103-video-chile-fire-valparaiso-burns-homes-evacuations
- Russian 24/7 English-language News, 3January 2017: https://www.rt.com/news/372532-wildfire-valparaiso-chile-evacuation/
- BBC News, 14 April 2014: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-27007884
- Chile National Forestry Corporation, March 1999: http://www.fire.uni-freiburg.de/iffn/country/cl/cl_3.htm
- Accuweather, 3 June 2016: http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/2016-south-america-winter-forecast-drought-chile-colombia-venezuela-rio-olympics/57661821