News: Fire destroying Torres del Paine National Park

300 firefighters are battling to save Torres del Paine National Park in Chile from a blaze that has so far consumed over 11,000 hectares of ancient woodland.

Overshadowed by the granite mountain tops of the Andes, Torres del Paine national park is a maze of glaciers and ancient forests.

A UNESCO World Biosphere reserve it is also the key habitat of the endangered Huemul deer, a species endemic to Chile and Argentina which only has 1,200 animals left in the wild.

Their habitat is currently being burned at a rate of 2,500 hectares a day. The fire is thought that to have been started by a carelessly thrown cigarette. The situation is made all the more dangerous as some of the species will currently have young. The Chilean president Sebastian Piñera has announced a state of catastrophe for the region as the weather conditions have made it impossible to contain the fire.

Winds of over a 100km an hour have helped spreading the flames to yet more inaccessible areas and Firefighters have been reduced to hosing the fire from as close a distance as the heat allows as the thick smoke and high winds have prevented any helicopters from taking off.

Another 200 firefighters are expected today and international assistance has been called for, but with the winds against them it is difficult to know when the fire will finally be controlled.

Past experience would also suggest that many more thousand hectares will be destroyed before the end. It is the third time in 26 years that a tourist’s careless actions have threatened to engulf the park in flames. The last fire in 2005, started by a Czech tourist, burned 15,000 hectares in ten days.

For now, the firefighters can only hope for a change in the weather. There were Chubascos last night, short intense rainstorms but none of them lasted long enough to make any difference. 

More rain is however predicted for the weekend and if the wind lessened it would give firefighters the opportunity they need to put out the flames. It seems that this time nature might just have to save itself.

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