Chile: Wildfire in Torres del Paine Shocks Netizens

Since December 29, 2011, Twitter has been flooded with messages referring to a massive fire in national park Torres del Naipe, one of the most important touristic spots in Chile and a declared Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO. One of the first users to talk about the fire was journalist Gonzalo Ramírez (@tvn_gonzalo) [es]:

Malas noticias desde Torres del Paine. Ya van 1500 hectáreas afectadas por incendio descontrolado.

Bad news from Torres del Paine. There are already 1500 hectares affected by an uncontrolled fire.

This disaster has shocked Chilean netizens who have expressed their feelings of worry, anger, sadness and hope that the fire gets controlled soon on various social networks. The tending topic “Torres del Paine” and the hashtag #salvemostorresdelpaine (let's save Torres del Paine) have been used to inform and comment on the fire.

At the time of writing the post, the fire had been burning for four days and 11.000 hectares had been consumed, which is equivalent to more than 21 thousand football fields as it was explained in an infographic [es] published by the online community Sentidos Comunes (Common Senses). Also, the ONEMI [es] (National Office for Emergencies – Interior Ministry) Director, Vicente Nuñez, said on December 30 [es]:

Estamos ante una situación altamente compleja, con un escenario de carácter extremo, principalmente por condiciones de topografía, fuertes vientos y estado de vegetación altamente combustible

We have a very complex situation on our hands, with an extreme scene, mainly because topography, strong winds and vegetation that is highly combustible.

Various citizen media have picked up reactions, including online newspaper El Dínamo which published a Storify [es] with pictures of the fire taken and shared by Twitter users. Also, YouTube user  [es] uploaded this video filmed during the park evacuation.

Indignation grew among netizens as time went by and authorities showed no clear organization and mass media didn't cover the news.

Simón Borić Font (@sboric)[es], a journalist from Magallanes, remembered last year's plane crash accident that resulted in the tragic death of 21 people in September in the Juan Fernandez archipelago:

A Juan Fernández mandaron 3 fragatas, 15 aviones y más de 500 hombres. En Torres de Paine hay 25 soldados chilenos y 23 ARGENTINOS (Chauque)

To Juan Fernandez they sent 3 ships, 15 airplanes and more than 500 men. In Torres del Paine there are 25 Chilean soldiers and 23 Argentinean (Chauque)

Luis Mariano Rendón, Acción Ecológica (Ecological Action) coordinator, a NGO known for its opposition to HidroAysén, said on a press release replicated on several online outlets [es]:

Hubiésemos querido ver a este Gobierno, que es tan ágil para lanzarle agua a la ciudadanía que lucha por sus derechos, ser igualmente ágil para lanzarle agua a las llamas que consumen nuestro patrimonio natural

We would have wanted to see this government that is so agile to throw water to the people that are fighting for its rights to be equally agile to throw water to the flames that are consuming our natural heritage

Psychology student and Punta Arenas neighbor Luis Sandoval Pérez (@orpheoslira) remarked:

Los twitteros los únicos informantes wn, que cuático. Los medios guatiando #salvemostorresdelpaine

Twitter users are the only ones informing dude, that's crazy. Mass media failing #salvemostorresdelpaine

Others remembered that in 2005 there was a similar fire and no corrective action was taken to improve the security in the zone, while the penalties for those responsible were low. Designer Marcial Barría (@marcialbarria) complained:

Por lo visto.. el incendio del 2005 en el Parque no dejó ninguna lección. #salvemostorresdelpaine

Apparently… 2005's fire in the Park didn't leave any lessons behind. #salvemostorresdelpaine

Famous Twitter users @elquenoaporta said:

Turistas rayan en Cusco: presos. Turista provoca, en 2005, incendio de 17.000 has en Torres del Paine: multa de $120 mil. #asinosepuede

Tourists who graffiti in Cusco: jailed. Tourist starts, in 2005, a fire of 17.000 hecaters in Torres del Paine: fined with $120 thousand [pesos] #asinosepuede [can't bear this]
Photo by Twitter user @IvanGomezS, used with permission

Photo by Twitter user @IvanGomezS, used with permission

Meanwhile, the government has declared the place a catastrophe zone decreeing that the park will stay closed during January. Also, the President has asked for help to other countries like the United States, Australia and Argentina to fight the fire.

Foreigners that were inside the park when this all started shared their testimonies on the Internet.

Global Voices author Miguel Angel Guevara told us by email:

Estaba en las torres del paine cuando nos tuvieron que evacuar, ayer regresé a puerto natales, hay mucha información aquí en el pueblo pero muchos rumores. […] La situacion ha evolucionado demasiado rápidamente, nos enteramos del incendio hace dos días cuando estábamos en el campamento italiano, y supimos que no podríamos ir al glaciar grey, después en la noche empezó a llegar olor a quemado al parque, y al siguiente día el guarda parques nos despertó a todos en el campamento para decirnos que había que evacuar. Evacuamos, pero ya en el horizonte no se veía nada, estaba lleno de humo, a mi me dieron naúseas al intentar caminar.

I was in Torres del Paine when they had to evacuate us. Yesterday, I went back to Puerto Natales. There's a lot of information here in town but a lot of rumors […] The situation has evolved too fast, we knew about the fire two days ago when we were at the Italian camp, then we learned that we would not be able to go to the Grey Glacier. Then at night we started smelling something burning in the park, and the next day a park ranger woke up everybody at the camp to tell us we needed to evacuate. We left, but it was already hard to see anything on the horizon, it was filled with smoke, I was nauseous as I tried to walk.

Stephanie – The Travel Chica left this comment in the post “Chile cries, her beauty burns: Fire in Torres del Paine” from the blog Matador:

The park should have been closed sooner. The guides coming out of the park knew it was out of control on Day 2 […] I have talked with several people evacuated from the park who said they were not given any information while they waited for hours in refugios watching the smoke and fire get closer.  Some were even charged money to escape on the tourist boats on Lago Grey. […]

Blogger Claudia Saunders was also at Torres del Paine when the fire started and after evacuating she posted a call to action in her blog where she echoes the feelings and hopes of many who are closely following the developments:

It's with a heaviness in my heart and a saddness [sic] in my soul that I write this entry. Torres del Paine is burning. It's an act of recklessness, selfishness and stupidity. No fires are allowed in the park, it's one of the few rules to protect this incredible place. Anyone who has been here knows why, the winds in Patagonia are a force unto themselves. But a group of people thought this rule didn't apply to them. With a mixture of despair and anger I watched thick red/brown clouds spill over the ridges and fill the whole valley with smoke…and i cried. […]

[…] I am asking you all to do your part and collectively we can hold in our consciousness the safety and well-being of all of those who rushed in to fight the fire and for a quick and harmonious end to it.

I saw young men, old men, military personnel, park rangers, gauchos and guides leave everything behind and in a moment load up horses, on foot, in cars and boats to reach the beginnings of the blaze and to battle it. This is their home. This is their prize. This is their livelihood and they are struggling to save it.

Photo by Flickr user Nekane Ortega Albarran (NoaPhoto) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo by Flickr user Nekane Ortega Albarran (NoaPhoto) (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thanks to Silvia Viñas and Felipe Cordero for their contribution to this post.

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