On 2 January 2012, the Chilean authorities declared a red alert as they combated the spreading of more than 50 wildfires affecting over 45,800 hectares. At the moment six provinces in three regions of Chile are under red alert: the provinces of Última Esperanza (Magallanes region), Biobío, Concepción, Ñuble (Biobío region), Cauquenes and Linares (Maule region). Although the exact level of affectation is still unclear, some 200 homes have been affected and 600 persons have been evacuated preventively. A 75-year-old man lost his life after refusing to evacuate his home.
The first fire started on 27 December in the Torres del Paine National Park, located in the Magallanes region in Chile's far south. Some days later eight fires started in Biobío near a cellulose plant, situation which led authorities to believe that the fires were caused deliberately. The current season’s high temperatures, strong winds and three years of drought have worsened the situation. At present, 20 wildfires are active, 24 contained and 7 extinguished. As a result, the Chilean government has requested international assistance to combat the fires and brigadiers from Argentina and Uruguay are working in Torres del Paine, while the government of Brazil offered an airplane capable of carrying 80,000 litres of water. More than 1,000 persons are currently working to contain the fires.
Biobío region: The National Forest Corporation (Coorporación Nacional Forestal - CONAF) reported that some 24,800 hectares have been affected, mostly in the area of Pichiqueime in the communes of Florida,
Quillón and Ranquil. The commune of Quillón had 20 active fires, although the majority of them have now been contained with the support of helicopters and airplanes. As the fire spread into Nueva Aldea, commune of Ranquil, some 495 persons were evacuated. Authorities have reported that 160 homes have been destroyed and that around 400 farmers have been affected by the destruction of 178 hectares of vineyards and fruit trees, 125 hectares of cereals, 67 greenhouses and 640 farm animals. On 3 January, there were 222 persons in the collective centre in Chillán, and 195 persons in the collective centre in Quillón. However, most households have moved with relatives and friends, prompting the close of the collective centre in Chillan, while the one in Quillón is sheltering only 19 persons.
Maule region: 6,605 hectares have been destroyed by the fires in this region, affecting 200 families and destroying 30 homes. In addition, some 200 persons in the commune of Cauquenes have been affected by the interruption of electricity supply, which is also affecting the availability of water as most homes depend on water pumps to carry the water from wells. Thus far, no families have taken refuge in collective centres in the commune of Cauquenes.
The Chilean government announced that it will declare the affected communes as “zones of agricultural emergency” to facilitate the mobilization of resources for the recovery of livelihoods in Biobío. Furthermore, the Ministry of Housing stated that the reconstruction of some 220 destroyed homes is expected to start before March 2012. Moreover, ONEMI has dispatched hygiene kits, sanitation equipment, water, food items, blankets and mattresses for people in collective centres as well as for the workers containing the fire.