Newsflash: Wildfire at Patagonia Park

Over 5,000 acres burn in still-raging wildfire

Over 5,000 acres burn in still-raging wildfire

Friday, March 28, 6pm–Quickly, as it’s all-hands-on-deck here in Valle Chacabuco.  Everyone–landscapers, trail builders, mechanics, lawyers, architects, cooks, pilots, along with help from the Chilean Forest Service and army—is pitching in fighting the worse wildfire in memory, with over 5,000 acres burned in the past 48 hours. All of us here feel deeply grateful and proud of how this team has mobilized to protect the park.  Everyone is going far beyond the call of duty and banding together to keep morale high.

One crew regroups to strategize

One crew regroups to strategize

On Wednesday afternoon (March 26), a neighbor alerted us that a small wildfire had begun within the park, near where the Carretera Austral crosses the Chacabuco River (near the westernmost point of the park).  The cause remains unknown—perhaps a cigarette butt from a passing car.  Very rapidly, our team mobilized to start fighting the fire.

Fire fighting begins, Wednesday afternoon

Fire fighting begins, Wednesday afternoon

However, dry late summer conditions allowed the fire to spread extremely quickly.  One team managed to control the fire’s point of origin while another moved further east in the valley to tackle the front of the fire.  A team of twenty, including machinery operators, worked rapidly to construct a firebreak. However, we did not have enough time to cut off the spread of the fire, which gained heat as it entered some forest.

Fire gaining heat, Wednesday evening

Fire gaining heat, Wednesday evening

Throughout Wednesday night until dawn, a smaller team controlled the park’s access road.  For hours, they managed to limit the fire from spreading to the south side of the road, where the main park headquarters lie.

Early on Thursday morning, however, the fire began spreading up the south side, eventually climbing up the hill toward the forests of Mount Tamango.  When assistance arrived from CONAF (the forest service), and the army to fight this sector, our team concentrated on the north side of the river.  Covering a wide area next to the Chacabuco River, our volunteer fire brigade was seeing remarkable success extinguishing hotspots until the afternoon winds picked up.  As fires started moving rapidly and in many directions, we retreated to re-group and focus on the most important areas for the remaining daylight hours.

Fighting a hillside fire, Thursday

Fighting a hillside fire, Thursday

One major success thus far was the extinguishing of the leading edge of all fire on the north side of the road.  A team led by Evaristo Jara, head trailbuilder, fought until 2am last night to control this critical area.  However, on the south side of the road, fires raged all night, gaining new areas of the forested hillside and moving toward the park headquarters.

View of the fires from the park headquarters last night

View of the fires from the park headquarters last night

This morning, CONAF arrived with more help, bringing eight full brigades from around the region, while the army brought two brigades and numerous supply and water trucks.  Between this help and our own extended team—including members of the construction crew, staff from our sister projects Parque Pumalin and Proyecto Ibera, family and friends—we’re up to 140 people fighting this fire.

We’re now focusing our energies on protecting the park headquarters, as the fire has arrived within a mile of the main buildings.  All machines are digging full speed as I type, creating a firebreak to cut the fire before it arrives here.  We’ve created evacuation plans, tested the sprinkler systems, and are batting down the hatches.  With afternoon winds picking up, the fires are moving fast in this direction—but the past few days have proved good training, and we’ve learned plenty about controlling fires, particularly in the grasslands.

Quick locator map of fire

Quick locator map of fire

Two days into this fight, it’s hard to know exactly how this will end, or the implications for the park.  The guanacos seem to be heading out of the fire zones well; very little huemul habitat has burned; fall is a relatively good time, ecologically speaking, for fires as few animals have young or eggs.  The drive into the park certainly looks drastically different, with most of the way from the western entrance to the park headquarters burned, but we hope within several years, grasses will rebound.  Anyway, it’s too soon to think about these questions, with the fire still burning actively.

Much of the burned areas look like this- some spots affected, some not

Much of the burned areas look like this- some spots affected, some not

But the important part: we are all safe and sound here, with solid plans for all situations. These have been exhausting and challenging days (and nights) but we are hoping for the best, and truly appreciative of all the help we are receiving.

Pray for rain with us,

All of us here in Valle Chacabuco—Alvaro, Claudio, Jorge, Juan, Carol, Maria Jesus, Fernando, Yonathan, Juan, Francisco, Kris, Doug, Evaristo, Haydee, Diana, Dalila, José, Zhaira, Tania, Alex, Andrea, Camila, Miguel, Sergio, Matt, Miguel, Manuel, Luis, Juan, don Franci, Cesar, Rodrigo, Gavino, Marin, Sergio, Pablo, Mónica, Pablito, Montserrat, Juan Carlos, Nelson, Hernán, Ale, Joan, Diego, Cristian, Rodrigo, Macarena, Carolina, Carlos, Francisco, Nino, Sara, Dago, Ale, Andres, Bruno, Cristian, Geno, Javiera, Flavio, Nadine, Eli, Nico, Tamara, plus many others

8 thoughts on “Newsflash: Wildfire at Patagonia Park

  1. Ema
    Saturday March 29th, 2014 at 02:29 PM

    All my feelings are with you in this horrible fire, I hope it will stop soon.

    1. Conservacion Patagonica
      Saturday March 29th, 2014 at 08:45 PM

      Thank you for your support!

  2. Jos van Beek
    Saturday March 29th, 2014 at 06:55 PM

    Praying we are. With all the focus we are capable of.
    To us Estancia Chacabuco is one of those few, precious realms of hope.
    Wish we could be sweating alongside you all.
    Jos and Rosy, Den Dolder, Netherlands

    1. Conservacion Patagonica
      Saturday March 29th, 2014 at 08:44 PM

      Thank you, Jos, Rosy and Den!

  3. Karen
    Sunday March 30th, 2014 at 01:22 PM

    Greetings,
    I just got back from hiking in Patagonia in Argentina and Chile last week. It is a mesmerizing place that needs to be protected. I respect all the work this organization is doing. Hopefully, the rain will come and good luck. I am looking into volunteering with your organizations but there doesn’t seem to be any openings?
    Regards,
    Karen

    1. Conservacion Patagonica
      Friday April 11th, 2014 at 04:52 PM

      We actually have two options for volunteering right now! Here are the links to more information:
      http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/download/Job_English_Teacher.pdf
      http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/makeadifference_v.htm
      We hope to review your application soon!

  4. Lorena Solaro
    Sunday March 30th, 2014 at 04:23 PM

    Rezamos por todos ustedes, y por la fauna y flora. Que DiOS proteja ese bellísimo valle, en el que hemos estado, y nos hemos sentido tan cerca del Cielo.

  5. Hana Hrstkova
    Monday March 31st, 2014 at 09:05 PM

    Great admiration for all the hard work on distinguishing the fire and finger crossed so that it is over soon with a minimum impact. Thinking of you from Prague, Hana

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