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Wildfires in Chile rip through historic vineyards and destroy wineries

Three regions of Chile have declared a state of emergency as wildfires burn through homes and businesses – as well as some of the country’s oldest vines.

Wildfires have destroyed wineries and scorched vineyards in south-central Chile after temperatures reached a record 40°C (104°F) over the weekend. More than 20 people have died and 1,500 others are seeking refuge after the wildfires burned down hundreds of homes in the region.

Three regions – Araucanía, Biobío and Ñuble – have declared a state of emergency. The National Service for Disaster Prevention and Response is currently battling to put out the fires.

Official government data revealed that the wildfires have already burned more than 40,000ha in the area. Record temperatures and strong winds have made it difficult to stop the blazes from spreading.

Interior minister Carolina Tohá said the fires provide another wake-up call about the impacts of the climate emergency. ‘Chile is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change, and this isn’t theory but rather practical experience,’ she said.

Sixteen people have died in Biobío, five in La Araucanía and one in Ñuble, while more than 500 are injured, according to Tohá. President Gabriel Boric has appealed for international aid to help contain the wildfires.

The harvest is fast approaching in the Bío Bío Valley and Itata Valley wine producing regions, which contain some of Chile’s oldest vines.

Anita Jackson, UK director at Wines of Chile, told Decanter: ‘It’s an incredibly sad and concerning situation and our thoughts are with everyone in the regions that are affected by the fires.

‘These regions are the home of Chile’s traditional viticulture and where the oldest vines are located that produce very distinctive wines, made mainly by boutique wineries and growers. We are monitoring the situation closely as reports of those impacted in the region are increasing.’

Leoncio Fernández, owner of Leoncio Wines in the Itata Valley, said he was left ‘speechless’ by the destruction to his winery.

Another producer, Altos del Valle in the Bío Bío Valley, reported that its winery had been completely destroyed. ‘But we will rise, entrepreneurs are like that – the only way is up,’ said the team.

Itata Expediciones, a company that provides gastronomic tours of the region, said in a statement: ‘What a pity we have in our souls. A lot of help will be needed for our friends. It hits us hard to see so many dreams turn to ashes, but these goats are big and warriors – nothing will stop them.’

The current crisis has brought back memories of the 2017 wildfires, which burned more than 100 vineyards in what was described as the ‘worst forestry disaster in the nation’s history’.

Andrés Meneses, manager of the Chilean Wood Corporation, said: ‘Right now, we are facing worse weather conditions than in 2017, when the big fires broke out.’

Spain, the US, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela have pledged to help, while neighbouring Argentina is sending 64 firefighters, a forest fire pump truck and a Chinook helicopter.


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