Massive fires , the "greatest forest disaster" in Chile's history, are ravaging south-central Chile.
View toward the south from Nogales, Chile, January, 2017
View toward the south in a past visit to Nogales in January
The fires thousands of kilometers away are so massive that their smoke obscures the views of the mountains from the farm I’m visiting in Nogales. A daily coating of microscopic ash covers the wraparound porch of the farmhouse.
When we visit Ricardo’s sister in nearby Quillota for lunch, the fires and all the news associated with them consume every minute on TV. Same when we pass TVs in stores in La Calera, a few miles from the farm in Nogales. Think Katrina.
In Nogales, a few miles away, a tractor trailer is parked on the main street. It’s destination? South- central Chile where the fires rage and thousands of people have lost homes and everything in them.
Within a day the trailer is filled with rice, staples, water, bread, fruit, even dog food. By the next morning, fully loaded, it’s on its way south.
People did the same thing when the earthquakes struck the southern parts of the country three years ago, says Ricardo. As awful as that was, this disaster is worse, causing more loss of property, homes, perhaps even a way of life.
Listen to the audio that accompanies the video on this link.
This link below is more horrifying. Entire towns have been wiped out. In Santa Olga, a town of 5,000 in Maule, 1,000 homes were destroyed. Santa Olga is 400 miles south of Nogales.
More videos that show the vastness of the wildfire's fury. Above: The entire town of Santa Olga, 1200 homes, were burned to the ground.
The wildfires have caused displacement of thousands, destruction of residential and business properties and huge swaths of countryside. On January 3, I saw one story about an earthquake and some fires in Chile. Since then, I found nada in The Boston Globe. The New York Times has been covering it all along.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Springs-based Global SuperTanker Services LLC sent a Boeing 747-400 Supertanker to help fight over 120 wild fires that have scorched about 700,000 acres of land in what President Michelle Bachelet calls "the greatest forest disaster in our history."
According to The Gazette of Colorado Springs, "The company sent a crew of 12 people to Chile that was underwritten with a grant from Fundación Viento Sur (South Wind Foundation), which is part of the Walton Family Foundation and is headed by Boulder residents Ben Walton and Lucy Ana Walton de Avilés, who is a native of Chile."
The political heat from the fires is focused on President Michelle Bachelet. Many in the countryside around Nogales say she is acting too slowly to marshal forces to combat the fires. Some say that conservative former President Piñera was more direct and timely dealing with disasters.
There is a rumor in the countryside (that I have not been able to substantiate...fake news?) that the government waited two days before allowing the supertanker to douse the fires. Meanwhile, the government has accepted offers of aircraft and firefighters from several other countries to help control the mind-boggling size of the wildfires.
There will be political consequences to pay when the fires are under control and the final ashes have fallen from the sky.
Top photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr. Other images courtesy of local news stations.