Mon, Mar 23, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Chilean wildfires wiping out plant, animal species

AFP, SANTIAGO

A wildfire has consumed more than 3,700 hectares of woodland, including a portion of the China Muerta national reserve, seen on Saturday in Melipeuco, Chile.

Photo: EPA

Massive wildfires raging in drought-stricken southern Chile have wiped out hundreds of plant species, and are now threatening animal life as well, officials said on Saturday.

“We are witnessing a massive environmental catastrophe” in southern Chile, Accion Ecologica chief Luis Mariano Rendon said from Mexico. “There have been whole species lost, such as the Araucaria araucana [monkey puzzle tree]. They are trees that take hundreds of years to reach maturity. So this is a practically irreparable loss for current generations.”

The trees, a distant relative of better known pine, are considered sacred by indigenous Mapuche people and Chile has declared them part of its unique national natural heritage.

Fires advancing for several days in the country’s south have ravaged more than 3,700 hectares of forest, and have been contained, but not put out entirely, firefighters said.

There are still 25 active fires, affecting 11,428 hectares of trees and brush, according to the Chilean National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry, which is known by its Spanish acronym, ONEMI.

Conguillio National Park lost 70 hectares of preserve area, but the fire there was contained by late on Saturday, Chilean National Forest Board officials said.

“Since we are talking about protected areas that have been lost, this really is something that has an impact for all of mankind, due to the invaluable nature of ecosystems,” Rendon said.

Forest fires are part of every southern hemisphere summer season in Chile.

However, “it is just embarrassing that Chile] Latin America’s wealthiest country] should be so totally defenseless,” Rendon said.

“We have plenty of F-16 fighter jets, but we don’t have enough smokejumpers and repellers,” he said, referring to aerial firefighting equipment.

Argentina is sending a team of 30 wildfire control experts, ONEMI said.

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