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Chile fires: 100-year-old vines lost in ‘national catastrophe’

Century-old vines have been destroyed and up to 100 vineyards damaged in wildfires that Chilean authorities have declared the 'worst forestry disaster in the nation's history'.

The viticultural fallout of the forest fires still raging in Chile has begun to emerge, with century-old vineyards burnt to cinders and small producers worst affected.

So far, more than 100 vineyards in Maule have been reportedly damaged by fires and approximately five hectares of vineyards have been destroyed in Colchagua as the fires continue to spread.

The government has declared a state of emergency in some central regions.

Many dry-farmed vineyards and adobe wineries in Maule’s ‘secano interior’ have been caught in a path of destruction as surrounding forests burn.

Cancha Alegre winemaker Sergio Amigo Quevedo lost six hectares of 120-year-old vines at the weekend.

‘It is hard to believe that those vines, which you have taken care of with such love and sacrifice, are lost, along with part of the viticultural patrimony of Chile, because of a voracious fire caused by careless men. It is a tremendous pain to lose these ancient vines that we bought in 2008 to preserve them from turning into a forest.’

The fires have been particularly ferocious in Maule. where controversial government-backed forestation plans have resulted in dense plantations of highly-flammable eucalyptus and pine trees.

Firefighters reported temperatures reaching over 100°C and many neighbouring homes were without power because cables melted.

Diego Morales, of Bisogno Wines, lost his 25 hectare vineyard with 150-year-old Pais vines, which was surrounded by forests.

He told Decanter.com, ‘By Saturday morning we could see that it was imminent… We made fire blocks, but nothing was enough. Our priority was saving the house.’

Morales and his family fought the fire themselves, suffering burns while throwing buckets of water at the fire approaching from all directions.

‘The firefighters were so overloaded that they arrived five hours after the fire had passed… These aren’t just forest fires, Cauquenes is a rural area where people live among forests, animals and vineyards. What burnt here was a cultural patrimony of more than 200 years. The authorities always minimise [these problems] and don’t react on time… I hope we can value our history and culture before this type of event happens again.’

After several weeks of uncontrollable fires in Chile’s Central Valley, President Bachelet declared a state of catastrophe on 20 January, calling it ‘the worst forestry disaster in our history’.

Peru, Mexico and Spain have sent have sent aid to combat the wild fires currently threatening 450,000 hectares of agricultural land between Colchagua and Maule.

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