1,000 structures destroyed in Chile wildfires

There have been at least seven deaths

wildfires in Chile satellite photo

Above: NASA satellite photo showing smoke from the wildfires in Chile January 26, 2017. The red dots represent heat detected by the sensors.

The siege of wildfires in Chile continues to worsen, with more than 1,000 structures destroyed in the last two days. There are reports that virtually the entire town of Santa Olga was consumed, including approximately 1,000 homes well as schools, businesses, and the post office.

The largest fires are in central Chile within 300 miles south of the capital Santiago. At times smoke has reduced visibility in the city to about a mile. On Thursday I watched an air tanker take off at the airport and within 15-20 seconds after leaving the runway it disappeared in the smoke.

The wildfire situation in Chile is the worst in recent memory, occurring during severe drought and higher than average temperatures.

Four wildland firefighters and and one air tanker pilot have been killed battling the fires since December 28. An additional three to six civilians have also died in the fires, with the number varying in different reports.

The 5,000 firefighters assigned are up against a seemingly impossible task as the burned areas 588,108 acres (238,000 ha) have grown substantially in the last few days, damaging towns, ranches, and vineyards.

747 Supertanker Santiago Chile
The 747 Supertanker at Santiago, Chile, January 25, 2017. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The world’s largest air tanker, the 747 SuperTanker, has been assisting the firefighters in Chile since it arrived January 25, dropping 19,200 gallons on each mission. At least one and possibly two Russian IL-76 air tankers will also join the fight, with a capacity of 13,000 gallons. Authorities are hoping that other firefighting aircraft from around the world can be found to add to the temporary fleet, including water-scooping tankers.

The weather forecast for Chile indicates the wildfire situation is not going to improve anytime soon, and predicts more hot, dry, and windy conditions.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “1,000 structures destroyed in Chile wildfires”

  1. Dear people from all over the world: As you may know from the news, 547. 000 hectares have been burned in my country Chile. We’ve received international support from the US, Brazil, Russia, and other countries to stop the fire but it has been impossible. Not only trees have been burned, not only rich or poor people and their properties, but also innocent animals have been burned in the catastrophe. This is a National tragedy. From the bottom of my heart, I beg all of you to help us in healing and caring for the surviving little poor animals that remained injured or burned, there are thousands of them: not only pets but native species too. We’d really appreciate your valuable donation.

    You may go to the following link, this is official:


    I’m sure life, heaven or God if you like will bless you all. Thank you.

  2. Once the fire got out of control, the local fire department could only try to evacuate the mountain and they did a lousy job on Chalet Village North. My issue is if they had attacked and fought the fire on the Chimney’s from day one, they might have averted the tragedy that occurred. I crept up Pinecrest Dr a mile to Wiley Oakley where I saw a single pumper parked. No sirens, claxons , just sitting there and one firefighter in his turn out gear standing outside of his cab. I told him my home was on fire and he said all they are doing is avacuating people. I replied when did you plan to come down our road and look for anyone. The only answer I received was “did you see anyone down there”. Told him no but then I couldn’t even see the driveways on my way up. There wasn’t anyone on that part of the mountain but me when I arrived at 1645 but I had no idea if anyone arrived after me. The ride down Wiley Oakley was a ride thru hell with all of the structure fires and ground fire from the leaves and seasoned timber laying on the ground. My fear this will be swept under the rug as many things are in Gatlinburg.

  3. Why didn’t they use this super tanker in Gatlinburg in November? Why didn’t the forestry service and Gatlinburg Fire Chief (EX-Chief soon to be hopefully if there is any justice) aggressively fight the Chminey Tops fire the day it broke out?

    1. If you expect the fire agencies to protect your property, it probably isn’t going to happen. My suggestion is to self protect as the first option, which allow your local fire service to have a fighting chance. What is historic about the fires in Chile is the funding is being provided by two private U.S. foundations, at least initially. Details are in this site. I suggested shortly after the Chimney 2 that in order not to have another disaster (Chimney 3) that private money (foundation) be applied t0 self protecting property and holdings outside of Federal lands. Contracting (if the fire danger is high) the service of an air tanker or helicopter company would be an appropriate self protecting step.

    2. There were 5 LATs and two scoopers and several smaller assets within 75 miles of the fire that happened in Gatlinburg. By the time they decided to order aircraft the winds were already too strong. Although, the fire burned for 4 days previous to the wind event…


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