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April 24, 2018

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American experts will collaborate in rehabilitation of Torres del Paine

La Tercera
By Pamela Gutiérrez y Paola Ramírez

Fire affects a total of 14,229 hectares [35,000 acres] in the national park.

A group of 25 volunteers who will come under the auspices of the Patagonian Foundation will arrive in March to collaborate in the rehabilitation of the areas damaged by the fire.

(February 27, 2005) US citizens, academics and civil employees of the Forest Service of the United States (U.S. Forest Service) will comprise a contingent of 25 volunteers who will come next March to work in the ill-fated area in Torres del Paine to support the rehabilitation of the footpath between Pehoé and Grey Glaciar.

A group of experts will come to Chile under the support of the Patagonian Foundation. In addition, an international agreement between the Chile Forest National Corporation (CONAF) and Forest Service of the United States will be signed next 14 of March.

The original plan, according to one of the directors of the Fundacion Patagonia, Marcelo Diaz, "was to only work on the rehabilitation of the footpath of 25 kilometers length that unites Pehoé and the Grey Glacier, but the fire [may cause] us to partly change our plan".

Thus, the volunteers Cheryl Mulder, hydrologist of the Eldorado national [forest] (California); Michael Olwyler, of the Bass Lake [Ranger District, Sierra National Forest (California); and professor Larry Lechner, from the Environmental Management faculty of the State University of Colorado, will arrive the 9 of March to familiarize themselves with the damages caused by the fire. The rest of the delegation plans to be in Chile from the 13 to the 25 of March.

One of the members of the delegation, the Director of Conservation Partnerships of the [Los Padres National Forest] Richard Tobin, has closely followed the news of the fire that has affected Torres del Paine, "that in the United States we are very sad to hear".

Tobin said that one of the challenges that exists after extinguishing the fire is the evaluation of the damages. "We are going to help in that task and soon we will make the recommendations [to CONAF]", he said.

Another one of the challenges will be "to protect the affected area from water erosion. For that there is a group of Chilean and American volunteers who will work to stop the erosion of the lands that were affected by the fire [because] soon the snow and rain will create [erosion] damage. In addition, the erosion destroys the trails, which [channel the water] and causes ecological impact".

In spite of the sadness that exists with respect to the rehabilitation in the park, Tobin assured that "it is perfectly possible that the park will recover, but difficult to say how long it is going to take. Once we arrive there, we will be able to know if the process will take 20, 40 or 100 years ".

In addition to the interchange of experts, the Patagonian Foundation is interested in receiving donations from businesses [to help in] the recovery of Torres del Paine.

New Center
A new fire center was activated yesterday in the sector of Armarga Lagoon, 600 meters from the entrance to Torres del Paine.

In the last evaluation made by CONAF, it was indicated that the fire continues and that [CONAF] is cataloguing the "type and magnitude".

The governor of the Province of Provedencia, Jose Contreras, assured that "the fire [is located only in] essentially the sectors with complicated topography, where forests of lenga [Chilean Cherry]" exist.

Nevertheless, the authority indicated clearly that the fire is not advancing "and we entered the stage of containment of the fire. Armaga Lagoon area remains closed by fire operations, because that is where the firefighter bases are concentrated ".

The last evaluation indicates that 14,294 hectares burned, of which 11,970 hectares are within Torres del Paine and the 2,324 hectares belong to several [private] ranches.

In addition to the local firefighters, Argentina provided 83 expert firefighters. The head of the brigade of [firefighters] from the Argentine Republic, Carlos Valverde, said that, "it is difficult to arrive at the fire area because firefighters must walk a long way since they are in areas that cannot be reached by motorized vehicles".

A series of struggles is taking place in the fire area as a result of the shortage of resources and obstacles to logistics that faced the firefighters

The problems of the fighting the fire

Struggles between firefighters, farmers and the municipality have occurred during the fire in Torres del Paine that is now controlled in spite of to having to create a new [operations] center.

The discord was revealed after a crossfire of criticism between the senator and president of the UDI, Jovino Novoa, and the governor of Esperanza, Jose Contreras. The parliamentarian said he was two days in the fire area "seeing how the fire was fought with the greatest improvisation and the absolute lack of resources".

The senator said that the first assistance came from the Municipality of Torres del Paine, "which is a small municipality that does not have the necessary resources. In addition, I object to the way the firefighting was conducted". He added that the Forest National Corporation (CONAF) "did not have effective resources in place to fight the fire, not even a tanker and, finally, [local] people had to feed the firefighters".

The criticism bothered Governor Contreras, who described them as "irresponsible". He said CONAF had the resources, but there were many other disadvantages that have obstructed the work of the firefighters. "Personally I asked for Mr. Goic, owner of the Goic Ranch (located next to the park and also affected by the flames) to allow firefighters to camp on the ranch to provide better conditions, but [Mr. Goic] refused. In addition, the mayor of Torres del Paine, Fernando Walls, did not allow the water tanker to be refilled, and the tanker had to go four hours away to obtain water. The community was not prepared to [support] so many [firefighters] and had to order [supplies] from other regions ".

In the last reports on the fire, yesterday [CONAF] created a new center 600 meters away from the entrance of Torres del Paine, but the authority assured that the fire has not experienced new advances.