March 29, 2014

New fire in Torres del Paine

by Marcela Torres

We are ending 2011 with sad news as a result of the irresponsibility of a tourist. A new fire is affecting Torres del Paine National Park, which has burnt 5,700 hectares (14,085 acres) of vegetation and has forced authorities to evacuate tourists and close the national park, as you can see in the video.

Once more, this disaster reminds us that greater precautions need to be taken to practice responsible tourism in protected areas, in order to avoid damaging them and ensuring they can be enjoyed by future generations.

The Government of Chile, through its Ministry of Interior and the National Emergency Office (ONEMI), is working to contain the fire and looking for support from specialized firefighting units. It is very difficult to control fires in Torres del Paine, however, because the strong Patagonian winds propagate fires very quickly.

I’ve already discussed in a previous blog the need to practice responsible tourism at the national park and to be careful with bonfires that are lit during the night. However, it seems necessary to take more extreme measure to prevent and mitigate the impacts of tourism in Torres del Paine.

Among other measures, it would be wise to forbid camping in the national park. There are already enough places to stay in within the park and more alternatives can be promoted in the nearby town of Torres del Paine. Apparently there is also a need for greater resources to patrol the area and control tourist activity.

In this context, it is worthwhile to remember that the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), the government agency in charge of managing protected areas in Chile, has clear regulations for visitors that are available on the website in Spanish and English. It seems worthwhile to be reminded of some of them to make sure that we act as responsible tourists when visiting a natural area:
  • Follow the instructions given by park rangers, including times for visiting, signs and maintenance of facilities in the Protected Wilderness Area.
  • Follow rules for safety. Walk only along marked trails and roads. In case you are planning a long hike, do not go alone, and take the appropriate equipment and clothes. Inform the park rangers about the route and time of return of your trip.
  • Make fires only in the places provided for doing so. After making a fire, put it out using large amounts of water. Wildfires and people with a careless attitude are always a potential danger to nature.

We hope that measures are finally taken and that tourists be more careful so that we will not have to witness another disaster such as this one in a place that attracts thousands of domestic and foreign visitors each year because of its unique beauty, wildlife and fantastic trails.

This entry was originally posted by the author on December 30, 2011.

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