Chile provides wildfire lessons to NFPA
A trip was successful when you find it nearly impossible to describe all that was learned in 400 words and four pictures. So, I shot past the word count and added a fifth to share the Wildland Fire Division's visit to Chile this past March.
NFPA went to expand its knowledge of wildfire operations in a new environment and to see how these communities are bringing their experience to preparedness planning. Not surprisingly, there were both similarities and new factors not familiar to the American experience that help us better craft our role in wildfire safety advocacy. NFPA was also fortunate to spend time with those making a difference in Chile and to build relationships for the future.
Chile's experience with wildfire provides lessons from time spent around the capitol, Santiago, and in the central region around Concepción and Chillán. About a quarter of Chile's land is forested but the majority is privately owned, with nearly half of that utilized for commercial forestry operations for timber export to the world market. The visit exposed us to their developing WUI and existing intermix that would be at home in Colorado or Tennessee.
Where state and federal forest management often influence our U.S. experience, multi-national forestry plantation companies play a larger role in Chile's land management. These homogeneous tree stands are on 12-24 year growth cycles and command a different focus in fire discussion. In many places, communities are next to, or within, these managed lands. These corporations are also involved in providing the fire operations and community outreach on their lands.
In Chile, nearly 80% of fires are arson caused. This makes public fire prevention education, forestry understanding, and community engagement programs a major emphasis for the national forestry agency, CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), in the schools and in developing communities in each of its regions.
Climate change is also altering their wildfire experience. Lightning storm activity and number of days over 86 Fahrenheit have increased over 2010-2015, while annual September-March rainy season accumulation has fallen. Similar to us, their “fire season” gets longer. With population growth, developing areas are now dryer and more at risk than before. In Concepción, we visited communities developed by the state for affordable housing goals that are on former plantation lands. This interface brings challenges to design and new resident understanding of the fire threat.
The visit began with our partners from South Africa who are bringing their wildland firefighter training efforts to new areas.
Working on Fire – Chile, operating with the commercial forestry company, ARAUCO, trains over 1,500 wildland firefighters annually that respond to over 2200 fires each seasonally. Special emphasis is focused on personnel actions both in training and in deployment.
This provides tremendous operational “near-miss” research, leading to a strong culture of safety and injury prevention in the field.
At week's end, the visit brought us back to Santiago to see first-hand, community workshop outreach achieved by CONAF's Communities Preparing for Wildfire (Comunidad Preparada Frente a los Incendios Forestales). This expanding program presents fire education and steps residents can take to increase preparedness and community engagement.