Authorities declared a state of catastrophe in central Chile yesterday as crews fought vast forest fires described as the worst in decades. More than 450 sq km were ablaze in the O'Higgins region - an area roughly the size of Vienna. As fire and emergency crews were brought in, officials evacuated 200 people from the mostly rural area south of the capital Santiago. Some 30 homes were affected in Cardenal Caro and Colchagua provinces, the National Emergency Office (ONEMI) said. A local ONEMI official, Josefina Lopez, said that no one was hurt but there was economic damage.
Some of the worst wildfires in Chile's history have destroyed more than 100,000 hectares of forest and forced the government to seek international aid. Agriculture minister Carlos Furche said Spain, Peru and Mexico are sending help to fight the wave of fires that have been fed by a prolonged drought and temperatures that have topped 100 Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). Hardest-hit is the south-central region of O'Higgins, where fires have destroyed homes, pasture and livestock, with ranchers releasing animals to avoid the oncoming flames. The government has declared a state of emergency in the area. Smoke from the fires has shrouded various cities, including the capital of Santiago. Chile's National Forestry Corporation said there were 129 wildfires raging across the country on Saturday. The number dropped slightly to 108 on Sunday.
As political and social commentators are interpreting this situation as a result of the effects of climate change in Chile, Patricia Gómez, Executive Director of Centro Shalom, a ministry related to Global Ministries' Partner, the Pentecostal Church in Chile said that “it is way too late to be talking about climate change in Chile, based on these forest fires. We have been giving the alert for many years. Now is the time to act upon it.” In the meantime, according to Patricia, the Pentecostal Church is already is working with pastors who are in charge of those localities collecting information and see how they can assist the families in need. Also, they will be working on developing trauma and/or resilience health programs in those communities.