The vegetated surface of Chile susceptible to the occurrence of wildfires is ca. 29 million ha (corresponding to approximately 45% of the continental area of Chile) made up basically of native forests, brushlands and prairies. In addition there are 1.6 million ha of plantations, principally of Monterrey Pine (Pinus radiata) and Eucalyptus species. The fire season normally begins in November, reaches its peak in January and February, decreases in March, and ends in April. However, years with a dry winter or an early finishing or a later beginning of the rainy season may extend the fire season in some regions. Lightning storms or other natural agents (e.g. volcanic activities) as wildfire causes are insignificant or not present. Fires escaping from controlled burning in forests and in the agricultural sector, and children playing with matches are the most important causes. In the last season arson showed a critical increase. An average of ca. 5,000 wildfires is affecting ca. 50,000 ha of land per year. Detailed statistics for the period 1989-94 are given in Table 1.
Under one of the Technical Departments of the Chilean Forest Service, the National Forest Corporation (Corporación Nacional Forestal [CONAF]), the Fire Management Department is in charge of coordinating and executing activities connected with the protection of natural resources against the occurrence of forest fires and damage. First priority is given to protect national parks, forest reserves and wilderness areas (under administration of CONAF) and to support actions in forest lands of medium and small farmers. Large forest companies are responsible for protecting their lands since 1979.
Since practically all of the fires have a human origin one of the fundamental activities of this programme is the prevention of forest fires. A recently launched nationwide public education campaign aims at influencing the attitude of Chileans with regard to natural resources, to publicize the new lines of action of National Fire Management, and to stop the indiscriminate use of fire in forests and agricultural land.
Fig.1. Average size of forest fires in Chile between 1964 and 1994. (will be added later)
The Fire Management Programme is carried out by a permanent staff of forest engineers and technicians. During each fire season CONAF hires 1,400 temporary labourers for activities such as aerial and ground-based fire detection, radio operators, dispatchers, suppliers, crew bosses, squad bosses, and fire-figthers. Some positions, like dispatchers and crew bosses, are generally maintained during the off-season.
Each fire season CONAF operates with 75 crews, the number of hired fire fighters in each crew is 23, with the age from 19 to 29. The equipment and water pumps were purchased from Canada. During each season CONAF rents two light air tankers (Dromader M-18) and 7 helicopters (Bell Jet Ranger, Long ranger, Alouette, and Bell 204 B), depending on the available market and budget. Some fire-fighting operations have been carried out using Sims PTF-150 or Bambi buckets. For fire detection 59 lookout towers are operated and 27 light planes are rented for air patrol from air clubs or private companies.
Due to the fast response and efficiency of the organization, 86.3% of the fires are extinguished before burning an area of 5 ha. Only 0.9% of the total fires exceed 200 ha. Figure 1 shows the average size of forest fires between 1964 and 1994.
Tab.1.: Number of wildfires and vegetated area affected by fire inChile between 1989 and 1994
Number of Fires
Vegetated Area Burned (ha)
Forest Total 1)
Total of Forest Plantations and Natural Vegetation 2) Agricultural lands
From: Herbert Haltenhoff Chief, National Prevention Program Address: National Forest Corporation CONAF Av. Bulnes 285, of. 401 Santiago de Chile Chile