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Gobierno de Chile

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February 28, 2017

Specialized EU team: “Chile’s forest fire is unprecedented and its impact is on a planetary scale”

In a report submitted to government officials, the European Union specialized emergency response group that was in Chile supporting the firefighting efforts stated that Chile’s response is the best it has seen in the world and that the fire marks a before and after for these phenomena at the global level.

The European Union expert emergency response group that was in Chile supporting the firefighting efforts submitted a preliminary report to government officials regarding its observations during the disaster. The group, which is called the Lead Emergency Management Authority (LEMA), is a highly specialized agency that belongs to the European Civil Protection Agency and comprises 34 countries from across Europe. The group provides support during emergencies around the world and reached Chile early on at the request of the government, providing 13 international experts on fires.

In their report to the officials, the experts stated that this fire –which consumed nearly 600,000 hectares and was brought under control in just 20 days- has characteristics that differentiate it from all of the other fires that have come before it. The experts catalogued it as a “firestorm” and explained that the global fire measurement scale used to list what was called the “fifth generation” of fires as the most destructive type known. Chile’s “firestorm” is the first “sixth generation” fire.

In regard to the magnitude of the disaster, the experts stated that “Chile has one of the best fire analysis and planning units in the world” and noted that the country’s emergency agencies never lost the capacity to anticipate where the fire would head. For example, they note that the officials’ response prevented the Las Máquinas and Vichuquén fires from coming together, which would have generated a highly complex situation. They also noted the rapid and timely evacuation of Santa Olga, which they said could be described as “perfect.” The government’s actions avoided the loss of many lives and damage to infrastructure. The experts added that “the world envies Chile in that sense.”

A true “firestorm”

The fire was described by the specialists as a “firestorm,” an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of humankind. They highlighted the fact that in a single night (January 25 to 26) the fire consumed over 8,000 hectares per hour. Comparatively, France requested support for a fire that burned a total of 8,000 hectares and Spain’s firefighting capacity collapsed with a fire that involved just 25,000 hectares.

The causes of the mega-fire

The experts hypothesize that the type of fire that is being seen for the first time with Chile’s “firestorm” will occur in the future in several countries because it is partly due to phenomena such as climate change.

In the case of Chile, in addition to global warming, there were extreme weather conditions, including the highest temperatures ever recorded there for January, a drought dating back to 2009 that generated a large amount of combustible material, and a phenomenon of high pressure in the Pacific Ocean.

Prevention and future actions

The experts described their work in Chile as “a learning experience” because they witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon. They noted that the events that they observed will force them to change fire prevention and firefighting mechanisms around the world, which will have to be studied by the global expert community.

The preliminary ideas include the use of more sophisticated technology and different designs for cities and forests, such as the creation of discontinuities in the landscape that had not previously been necessary.

They also stated that in the future it will be important to use the installed response capacity at the global level such as the European Union team instead of developing one in each country.

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