Deadly wildfire razes entire town in Chile: 'literally like dante's inferno'

 
26 January 2017

published by https://www.theguardian.com


Chile —  An entire town has been consumed by flames in Chile as unusually hot, dry weather undermined efforts to combat the worst forest fires in the country’s recent history.

More than 1,000 buildings, including schools, nurseries, shops and a post office were destroyed in Santa Olga, the biggest of several communities to be reduced to ashes in the Maule region.

One body was later recovered from the ruins. Two people are missing, but most of the residents were evacuated unharmed. Few will have a home to return to.

Drone images showed entire neighbourhoods reduced to ashes. The roads are still neatly symmetrical, but the buildings in block after block lie in smouldering ruins under a hazy sky.

Even for a region that is frequently hit by earthquakes and floods, the extent of the destruction was shocking.

“Nobody can imagine what happened in Santa Olga. What we have experienced here is literally like Dante’s Inferno,” said the Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of the encompassing municipality Constitución. “We were recovering after the last earthquake, but this tragedy has messed up everything.”

He said the smaller communities of Putú and Cabezalillo had also been damaged.

“The situation is awful. It’s the worst catastrophe we’ve had in a number of years. I believe that this surpasses any tragedy that we have had before, this is much worse than when it was the earthquake or the floods. It is a thing that does not stop, is advancing,” said Francisco Henríquez, director of Orca Chile, a civil organisation deployed in the area.

Residents expressed dismay and fury as they returned to charred livestock, collapsed buildings and blackened farm fields. Some felt abandoned by the authorities.

“When the politicians need our votes they come here, they put their face and expect us to vote for them. Now they’re not here,” Miguel Reyes, a resident of Santa Olga, told BioBioChile

But even with 5,000 firefighters, government resources have been overstretched.

More than 90 wildfires have broken out in the past few weeks and spread rapidly across vegetation that has been dried by unseasonably high temperatures. Many regions have suffered heatwaves. Santiago registered a record 37C on Wednesday.

At least four firefighters have been killed in the battle to control the blazes. Including police and civilians, the overall death toll is now seven, according to local media.

The economic impact is still to be calculated. According to the National Forestry Corporation, 238,000 hectares of forests in central and southern Chile have been burned, forcing the evacuation of at least 4,000 people and damaging farms, cattle ranches and vineyards.

President Michelle Bachelet has declared a state of emergency and called for international help in dealing with fire on a scale “never seen in the history of Chile”. Dozens of helicopters, light aircraft and a Boeing 747 “supertanker” have dumped water and flame retardants from the skies, but at least 30 fires continue to rage.

There have been successes. Penco, a town of 50,000 inhabitants, in the region of Bío Bío, was saved by firebreaks that kept the advancing flames at bay. But the threat continues.

The interior minister, Mahmud Aleuy, warned more fires might break out because weather forecasters predict several more days of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity.

The government has pledged to investigate the cause of the fires and the effectiveness of the official response.

As well as climate change, tourist negligence and poor park management, the country’s timber and wood pulp industry may come under the spotlight.

Biologists say plantations of non-indigenous forests, such as eucalyptus and pine, help to spread the fires more quickly.

“About 42% of the forest fires are in plantation forests, which are like matchboxes,” said Mary Kalin Arroyo of the University of Chile. “They spread fire to native forests.”

El capitán del primer batallón de la Unidad Militar de Emergencias (UME), Emilio Arias, ha descrito como "dantescos" los efectos del incendio forestal en el paraje natural de la Sierra de Gata (Cáceres), aunque ha sido optimista en cuanto a su extinción al darse una situación "bastante favorable" en estos momentos. Fotogalería ALCALDE 11 Fotos La Sierra de Gata, tras el incendio "El incendio se dio por estabilizado y ahora mismo sólo hay pequeños focos que se reactivan por lo que la situación es bastante adecuada para intentar extinguir el fuego", ha explicado Arias en una entrevista en COPE. Arias ha descrito como "dantesco" el efecto del fuego en una zona "donde el terreno era precioso". El mando único del Plan Director del Infoex decidía este lunes mantener activo el Nivel 2 de peligrosidad en el incendio de Sierra de Gata ante las previsiones de viento y altas temperaturas. Las mismas predicciones indican que habrá una mejoría a partir de las primeras horas de la noche del lunes, según ha informado la Junta de Extremadura. Más de 200 efectivos se mantienen en la zona. Intentar llegar a la normalidad es "un tanto difícil", y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños El incendio declarado el pasado jueves ha arrasado unas 7.500 hectáreas de alto valor agrícola, ambiental y paisajístico, de ahí que el Gobierno regional haya iniciado ya la evaluación de los daños y comenzado a preparar la recuperación de la zona. El director general de Medio Ambiente, Pedro Muñoz, ha afirmado que el incendio ha causado un "desastre" desde el punto de vista medioambiental ya que ha arrasado miles de hectáreas de pinar, olivar y pastos, además de haber producido cuantiosos daños materiales en algunas poblaciones. La asociación conservacionista SEO/Birdlife ha denunciado que el incendio afectó gravemente a especies amenazadas y a espacios protegidos de la Red Natura 2000, incluidos robledales, madroñales y castañares centenarios. Todo el área afectada es una zona ornitólogica de interés mundial. Por su parte, el alcalde de la localidad cacereña de Hoyos, Óscar Antúnez, ha alabado la participación ciudadana en el municipio para ayudar a los operarios del plan Infoex como "lo bonito dentro de la tragedia" y ha añadido que el "sentir general" de los ciudadanos de Sierra de Gata es de "frustración e indignación" tras el incendio forestal. El alcalde ha señalado que ha podido hablar con los vecinos de la localidad y que los "más afectados" son los que han perdido fincas o casas de campo, sobre todo una familia que ha perdido su domicilio de vacaciones habitual, que era una casa "recién reformada". Asimismo, Óscar Antúnez ha indicado que intentar llegar a la normalidad es "un tanto difícil", y que ahora hay que hacer valoraciones de los daños, tanto la Mancomunidad de Municipios de Sierra de Gata como la Junta de Extremadura, para ver qué ayudas se pueden proporcionar y de qué modo, además de cuáles serán los medios disponibles. Por último, el primer edil de Hoyos ha explicado que los vecinos, "más allá de la lamentación", deben intentar hacer "una vida normal", aunque ha considerado que es muy difícil "dado el paisaje que tenemos", ya que casi el 90% del término municipal está calcinado, ha indicado.

Ver más en: http://www.20minutos.es/noticia/2532392/0/fuego/gata/dantesco/#xtor=AD-15&xts=467263