Thoughts from the forest fire in Torres del Paine National Park
Trees are life, they are home for many animal species, save water inside their bodies, help to prevent soil erosion, give oxygen, shade, moisture, and embellish the air when the wind create a sound with its leafs. Every time I walk through the forest, it is impossible for me not to feel its energy.
It is because of all of these things that when I walk through the burnt forest at Torres del Paine National Park, it is also impossible for me not to feel sorrow. What a shame it is to see all those trees, with their white and leafless trunks, like petrified, motionless, not growing anymore. As skeletons and testimonies of what once happened, more than 4 years ago during the last big fire in the park. Some of them show part of their trunks carbonized, others fortunate enough, can keep on living thanks that some of their branches were not reach by the fire.
This huge fire started on December 27th, 2011, and it was officially extinguished on February 24th, 2012. Covering a surface of 17.606,3 hectares, damaging from forests to steppe. The firefighters did what they could to control and set off the fire, who were also helped by temporary rains that luckily fell from the sky.
As I keep on walking around there, I think that I never had the valuable privilege of walking through the forest, never had the chance to live that experience with all of my senses, or simply to be there. And as I will never be able to live that, many of the future generations will not be able to do that either, and maybe no other generation will.
There are some who say that the forest will never recover. Others say that it will take hundreds of years. But what its certain is that it will be never be the same again. The trees are already burnt, they will not change, they will be replaced by other growing young ones, perhaps new species will join, like those who arrived after the first forest was burned. The old and ancient trunks will remain, until little by little their ashes and wood become part of the ecosystem again. Just maybe after a long time, some human beings will walk through this place without realizing what once happened, but those who have the knowledge and the sensitivity will be aware of it.
All of this happens because of completely avoidable reasons. There have been three major fires in the park, and all of them by nonsense actions; like a cigarette, a camping stove, and a toilet paper set on fire. And thanks to the characteristic wind of the region, a dry environment and the local topography among other variables, is that this fires have had precise conditions to spread rapidly.
Perhaps how many other fires have taken place in the past, like for example once caused by accident narrated by William H. Greenwood, occurred somewhere near Salto Grande waterfall in 1883,  and maybe how many other fires have been avoided, like one that almost started in Laguna Azul site in March 2016. Since 2012, after the last great fire, several tourist from different countries have been sent out, after being caught doing fire risky actions, without respecting the National Park norms and recommendations, like cooking with a stove in the trail, and starting small fire at a camping area, being the latter forbidden under any circumstances anywhere in the park by law (Ley N°20.653). We must learn to have compassion for the places we visit, understand it, and act accordingly to that, so we don´t cause any more damages.
There have been done and exist several reforestation initiatives run by different institutions and organization like: CONAF, INJUV, NGO AMA, Reforestemos Patagonia Foundation, Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, among others. All of these initiatives, are an example of what should be done to repair all the damage, moving forward step by step in the task for restoring these lands.
Man-made forest fires are one of the worst tragedies that can happen. Specially if they take place in ecosystems which are not used to fire, meaning that they don´t include ashes as an important part of their life cycles, and most of all if they burn slow growing trees, lengas and coigües (species of beech trees) in this case, among many other vegetal species.
Preventing wild fires allow us to conserve the forests, which are home to diverse animal species, of trees that save water inside their bodies, help to prevent soil erosion, that give us oxygen, moisture, shade, and embellish the air when the wind create a sound with its leafs. But above all, to prevent this sad and shameful events, is to keep the energy of the forest alive.
1. Abumohor, J. (2012). Informe técnico consolidado. Incendio Forestal Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. ONEMI.
2. Gladys G. Grace Paz y Duncan S. Campbell. (2015) Patagonia Bravía. (p. 161-169)
3. CONAF. Normas y Recomendaciones.