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Fires threaten vineyards in Chile’s Colchagua Valley

Wineries and vineyards in Chile's Colchagua Valley have been put on red alert due to wildfires in the region.

More than 20,000 hectares have been ravaged by bush fires in Colchagua this week, according to reports from Chile. The wine valley was on ‘red’ emergency alert on Thursday 19 January.

So far, no wineries have reported any damage, but producers remained on watch as several fruit plantations, forests and houses have burnt down. Agricultural workers are being advised to stay inside as an ash cloud blankets the region.

This week is the latest in a series of recent bush fires.

‘We have had lots of fires this summer in Colchagua and Chile in general,’ said Polkura winemaker Sven Bruchfeld from Marchigüe. ‘A month ago two fires passed really close to our vineyards – just 20 meters away.’

Bruchfeld said that it is ‘too early in the season for the grapes to be affected by the smoke’.

However he and other local producers are staying on fire watch: ‘Each year it’s the same disaster, and some are closer than others. You have to be really careful, and be organised between neighbours to help each other protect the vineyards.’

Pumanque, Marchigüe, Santa Cruz, Palmilla, Peralillo, Rengo and Malloa are the worst affected areas, all ablaze according to the latest official reports. Volunteer fire fighters have been deployed alongside the national forest corporation, CONAF.

‘The region has five forest fires ongoing at the moment,’ announced CONAF regional director Pablo Stephanio Wednesday, adding that two fires in Pumanque and Paredones had now engulfed each other, creating one gigantic blaze.

The combination of prolonged drought and erratic winds have seen the fire spread at a speed of up to 4,200 metres per hour.

‘It has been an incredibly hot summer,’ said Santa Ana vigneron Matt Ridgeway. ‘But these fires seem to happen every year because of a lack of preparation and education on how to avoid risks.’

Chile’s O’Higgins region has already lost 42,000 hectares to bush fires this summer.

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