Five days of raging fires have already burned more than a thousand homes and more than 200,000 hectares, with more than 200 active outbreaks and the loss of 26 lives between the regions of Ñuble and Los Ríos, territories dominated by exotic monoculture tree plantations controlled by the Chilean forestry and cellulose industry business.
“Forest fires are socio-environmental disasters whose psychological impacts on communities transcend material and economic losses, affecting multiple levels families and localities and increasing their vulnerability,” stated the Chilean Network for Overcoming the Forest Model” on the 2 January of this year, only one month before registering this situation.
The conversion into fast-growing plantations increases fire risk, warned the Center for Climate and Resilience Research in its Report to the Nations. Scientists found that, “extensive forest plantations favour the spread of fire, as they are composed of a dense and flammable fuel type (fast-growing pine and eucalyptus) that is continuously distributed across the landscape and is often poorly managed”. Researchers have also pointed out that mega-fires would increase due to climate change.
What’s even worse, firefighters do not have access to water to extinguish fires, because since its privatisation under the dictatorship water has been monopolised by the forestry companies that surround local people’s homes. “The water that is available is insufficient for everyday domestic uses, there is no water to fight fires,” denounces the mayor of Santa Juana, Ana Albornoz (Biobío, Chile).
An alliance by the VientoSur Collective of Chile, Environmental Paper Network and Biofuelwatch has extensively denounced the damage and threats caused by the forestry model’s production chain, from forestry plantations, the cellulose industry and energy from forest biomass, which benefit from the sale of carbon credits, in circumstances that, far from helping to tackle climate change, increase the vulnerability of the territories in the face of it.
In order to overcome the forestry model and in particular the risk of extensive fires, the organisations call the State for stopping the expansion of exotic tree monocultures, and to establish effective regulations on this activity, which include the obligation to enter all projects into the Environmental Impact Assessment system, the prohibition of monoculture replanting of damaged soils, the restoration of soils based on territorial planning and community participation, and the reallocation of water for public use and public management, especially for the use of firefighters and firefighting.
The alliance calls on the government to put an end to the logic of subordination to the interests of forestry companies, demanding that they assume responsibility for the damage caused, paying the costs of the recovery of communities and the restoration of territories, and avoiding the perpetuation of the system of dependence and depredation that has been in place for decades.
The organisations call on the buyers and financiers of forestry companies to stop supporting a business model responsible for these types of tragedies. The fires can no longer be seen as mere accidents, given their frequency and the systemic nature they have acquired. They also demand that the government and international institutions such as the World Bank stop subsidising the establishment of monocultures as a form of “carbon sequestration” and to have a public and transparent review of the impacts of fires on carbon emissions.
See also: Conflict Plantations Chapter 3: Stolen land and fading forests in Chile.
 WildfireToday, Chile: Wildfires intensify, disaster impacts expand, February 2023, https://wildfiretoday.com/2023/02/04/chile-wildfires-intensify-disaster-impacts-expand/
 Resumen, Suben a 23 las muertes por catástrofe forestall, February 2023, https://resumen.cl/articulos/suben-a-23-las-muertes-por-catastrofe-forestal
 OLCA, Los monocultivos forestales son un importante factor de riesgo para el origen, propagación, frecuencia, intensidad, extensión, temporalidad y gravedad de los incendios forestales, enero 2023, https://olca.cl/articulo/nota.php?id=109847
 CR2 – Center for Climate and Resilience Research (Universidad de Chile), Incendios en Chile: causas, impactos y resiliencia, http://www.cr2.cl/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Informe-CR2-IncendiosforestalesenChile.pdf
 D. B. McWethy et Al, Landscape drivers of recent fire activity (2001-2017) in south-central Chile, 2018, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0201195#sec013
 Grospitz, S. et al., Estudio alerta peligro creciente de megaincendios a causa de plantaciones forestales y cambio climático, September 2018, https://resumen.cl/articulos/estudio-alerta-peligro-creciente-megaincendios-causa-plantaciones-forestales-cambio-climatico
 ADN Radio, El dramático relato de la alcaldesa de Santa Juana por incendio forestal en la comuna: “Estamos solos”, February 2023, https://www.adnradio.cl/nacional/2023/02/03/dramatico-llamado-alcaldesa-santa-juana-incendio-forestal-si-no-hacemos-cortafuego-20-metros-10-mil-personas-van-perder-viviendas.html