Climate Change

Chile forest fires: Why does Chile face deadly forest fires every year?

Chile has been undergoing a decade-long drought season since 2010

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 05 February 2024

A state of emergency has been declared in Chile, with 112 people having died due to wildfires along the coastal towns of the country, according to reports.

Burning since February 2, 2024, the wildfires have now expanded across the outer regions of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists.

The Chilean National Disaster Service (SENAPRED) stated that the wildfires have destroyed about 64,000 acres of land. There are still “40 active fires” in the country, it added.

The wildfires are said to be Chile’s worst national disaster after the 2010 earthquake which claimed the lives of about 500 people. Chilean President Gabriel Boric said this (wildfires) is a “tragedy of very great magnitude”.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Chile’s summer. Last year in February, the country mourned the death of more than 27 people and the destruction of about 990,000 acres of land due to forest fires. This year, however, the lethality has increased.

Chile has been undergoing a decade-long drought season since 2010. Down To Earth had reported about the “megadrought” in the country, caused by a combination of climatic factors — both natural and human-induced global warming.

Chile has received 30 per cent less rainfall than normal in the past decade, with rainfall deficits of 80-90 per cent. This has transformed the landscape of the country from lush and green to plain dry.

A report by the World Meteorological Organization, titled State of the Climate in Latin America and Caribbean, 2021, stated the length and strength of the drought has caused water scarcity, food insecurity, loss of livelihoods and massively impacted biodiversity.

This, coupled with the cyclical phenomenon El Nino, exacerbated the high temperatures and droughts throughout the region, making conditions favourable for forest fires to keep blazing.

In two days, areas filled with public housing and improvised dwellings had been reduced to rubble. Everything has been blackened and covered with smoke. “The number of victims will increase in the coming hours,” said Boric.

Other countries in Latin America are also facing severe weather events. In January, more than 42,000 acres of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather. Last year, Brazil reported the highest number of forest fires among South America, followed by Bolivia.

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