Flames are leaping across Patagonia, as a blaze in the Torres del Paine national park continues to evade Chilean firefighters’ efforts to control it.
The fire started on December 27 near Lake Grey, along the western edge of the popular “W” hiking trail. The Chilean forestry service, Conaf, immediately evacuated some 400 visitors to the nearby town of Puerto Natales, and then further south to Punta Arenas.
Torres del Paine is considered the crown jewel of Chile’s national parks, and receives up to 150,000 tourists every year to explore its pristine forests, alpine lakes and glaciers, as well as the iconic granite spires that give the park its name (“Towers of Paine”).
The extreme geography and isolated wilderness that make the Torres del Paine park so enchanting is now frustrating firefighters’ attempts to control the blazes, which have affected 7 percent of the park’s 937 square miles (243,000 hectares).
Currently, strong winds have ruled out air support, but 753 firefighters are working on the ground to control the fires, and neighboring Argentina has also sent firefighters to support the effort.
“Of the six outbreaks, three remain under control and three are still in the combat phase,” said National Director Vicente Núñez of the National Emergency Office (ONEMI). According to Núñez, the park hopes to reopen the northern section to tourism later this week and have 70 percent of the park functioning normally.
The hot summer temperatures and forested landscape of southern Chile have also fueled numerous blazes in the BioBio Region and the Maule Region, south of Valparaíso and Santiago.
Travelers headed to southern Chile can find up-to-the-minute information on the ONEMI website in English, here.