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Sat Mar 4, 2017, 08:04 PM

Did Pinochet-era deregulation cause Chile's worst-ever wildfires?

Did Pinochet-era deregulation cause Chile's worst-ever wildfires?

After the fires killed 11 and devastated vast swaths of land in January many are asking if subsidised timber plantations are to blame

Piotr Kozak in Santiago
Friday 3 March 2017 12.28 EST

The smoke has almost cleared, the blazes that raged over half a million hectares of forests, bush and grassland mostly extinguished, but the air is still thick with recriminations against Chile’s eucalyptus and pine plantation owners who are accused of putting profits before safety.

Following the worst fires in the country’s history, activists are asking whether the unregulated expansion of the forestry industry under the dictator Augusto Pinochet will lead to more problems in a future that is likely to be hotter and drier as a result of climate change.

. . .

Fire chiefs said that multiple factors caused the blazes, but environmentalists say the toll was higher than it should have been because plantations had expanded to the edge of communities and companies had failed to insert firebreaks.

“We’ve been warning the forestry sector for the last eight years about the growing threats; and these plantations are never subjected to environmental risk assessments – they’re completely unregulated,” said Sara Larraín, former presidential candidate and director of the environmental NGO Chile Sustentable.


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