Chile’s forest fires to cost $333 million: Finance minister

Firefighters dig trenches in a effort to stop the advancement of fire in Hualane, Concepcion, on Jan. 25. Alejandro Zoez / AP

By Ross Brown/ The Santiago Times

SANTIAGO – Chile’s massive forest fires will cost the government $333 million, Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes said, while the estimates do not include damages to small and medium sized producers, nor private donations.

The government will reallocate $100 million from the current budget, while another $233 million will be taken out of a rainy-day fund that the government maintains for such situations, Valdes said at a press conference.

“Those are the costs that the state will have to assume in the preliminary estimate that we’re doing,” the minister told reporters. “That situation can change when we have more information, and it will depend on how the wildfires evolve.”

Losses for Chile’s private sector have been significant in some cases. Chile’s forestry industry, one of the country’s main export sectors, reported $350 million in losses as of last week.

Forest fires during the hot, dry Chilean summer are not uncommon, but a nearly decade-long drought combined with historically high temperatures have created tinder-like conditions in the nation’s central regions. More than one million acres in the center and south of Chile have gone up in flames since July 2016, with almost 70% of the destruction occurring last month.

According to official figures, 11 people were killed and nearly 1,500 homes destroyed.

Foreign firefighters and specialists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, France, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Spain, the United States and Venezuela have teamed up with local rescue teams to fight the 41 active fires.

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