Chile fires destroy protected forests
SANTIAGO, Chile - Fires sweeping through forests in southern Chile have destroyed about 44,500 acres(18,000 hectares) of prized native tree species in the past three weeks, the state forest agency said.
The fires have consumed a total of 131,000 acres (53,000 hectares) of forested land in the Andes mountains and adjacent valleys, including some commercial tree plantations, about 500 miles (800 km) south of Santiago.
The affected zones are unpopulated and no injuries have been reported. The causes of the fires are unknown, but a lack of fire safety by farmers and tourists is suspected.
Firefighters had contained the blazes by Friday, but high temperatures and winds threatened to cause them to flare up again, the forest agency, Conaf, said.
\"The fires affecting protected species in the mountains are more or less under control, but there is a hot dry wind that comes from the Argentine plains and blows over the mountaintops, making the firefighting work difficult,\" Luis Martinez, chief of operations at Conaf, told Reuters.
The fires damaged state-protected nature reserves, home to the araucaria, or monkey puzzle, and other hardwood species found only in Chile such as lenga, coigue and rauli.
\"These losses are not economic but it is considered a loss of part of our natural heritage,\" Martinez said.
He said it would take about a month to extinguish the fires, he said.
About 19 percent of Chile\'s national territory, or 34.6 million acres (14 million hectares), is set aside as national parks, reserves or monuments, where flora and fauna cannot be legally used for commercial purposes.
Commercial tree plantations of pine and eucalyptus had also been affected by the fires, causing businesses an estimated $80 million in direct losses, industry spokesman Emilio Uribe said.
Indirect losses from the loss of productive soil, erosion and desertification were 10 times greater, according to Conaf.
Wood pulp is Chile\'s second-largest export commodity after copper.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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