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President Piñera presents historic plan to prevent and fight forest fires: “Timeliness, speed and coordination will be fundamental”

The President has announced the biggest investment ever to be made in Chile to combat forest fires. The plan includes aircraft such as tanker planes and helicopters, heavy machinery and the deployment of thousands of fire brigade members.

On Wednesday, President Sebastián Piñera unveiled the National Plan to Prevent and Combat Forest Fires for the 2019-2020 season. It includes the largest spending package in Chile’s history for fighting fires and coordinated work between ministries, governments, agencies and security forces.

The President announced that the public and private sectors together are allocating nearly 120 billion pesos for fighting fires. He also highlighted coordinated efforts between the Agriculture, Interior, Defense, Public Works, Environment, Energy and Health Ministries, governor’s offices, regional governments, the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), the National Emergency Office of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI), fire departments, the Armed Forces, forestry and electric companies, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the uniformed police (Carabineros) and the investigative police (PDI).

“We will have complete collaboration between the public and private sectors,” the President said as he unveiled the plan at the El Bosque Air Force Base in the company of Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker and Defense Minister Alberto Espina.

The program includes 2,515 firefighters who will be available to fight fires as part of 238 brigades stationed at points from Atacama to Magallanes. They will be joined by 3,400 private sector brigade members. There will be 55 aircraft (up from 43 in 2018) including tanker planes, helicopters and coordination planes, and 52 private sector aircraft also will be used. In other words, an unprecedented fleet of 107 planes and helicopters will be available during this season. 

The plan also includes the use of special fire fighting vehicles, such as trucks that spray flame retardant foam (PC-Code), mobile satellite command positions (PUMA) used for planning and coordination, tanker trucks for engaging in initial attacks on fires, heavy firefighting machinery and drones.

This comes in addition to the use of modern technological tools such as software for monitoring the behavior of fires in terms of their speed, direction, intensity and height, providing valuable information to determine the combat strategy. The “Red Button” Forest Fire Prediction Program, which will also be used, shows risk areas by fine dead fuel index and considers factors such as temperature and humidity. Alerts will be issued for specific areas, which will allow brigades to be mobilized and to coordinate with all needed support services.

“Timeliness, speed and coordination will be fundamental elements,” the President said.

Over the past five years, Chile has recorded an average of 6,511 fires per season. These have affected an average surface area of 177,000 hectares. The President estimated that fires could affect between 80,000 and 120,000 hectares during 2019 and 2020.

As part of the plan, CONAF has developed a citizen training program to prevent fires from being caused or propagated.

For its part, ONEMI, which coordinates the National Civil Protection System agencies, has specific regional plans to combat fires.

The Armed Forces have developed instruction and equipment initiatives for Forest Fire Reinforcement Brigades and anticipate providing helicopters, planes and drones to identify and monitor fires.

Finally, the President announced that he will soon submit bills to Congress to protect urban trees, restore forests and enhance Chile’s capacity to recover its native forests.

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