The National Forest Service of Chile reported on its website on January 30th that the fire burned more than 360,000 hectares in seven of Chile’s 15 regions, especially in Maule, Biobío, O’Higgins and La Araucanía.
High temperatures and winds made the situation worse. The spread of the forest fires triggered an immediate international response. “Chile is experiencing one of the worst forest fires in its history,” President Michelle Bachelet tweeted.
At the request of the Chilean government, the Peruvian Defense Ministry immediately made available to its southern neighbor a C130 Hercules and a Spartan C-27.These aircraft transported a Bell 212 Helicopter, a brigade of 48 forest-fire specialists from Peru’s National Civil Defense Institute (INDECI, per its Spanish acronym), as well as equipment and supplies.
The Peruvian Air Force (FAP, per its Spanish acronym) delegation arrived at the Pudahuel Air Base in Santiago, Chile on January 27th. The Bell 212 helicopter of the FAP’s 3rd Air Group then traveled to Talca, where the Chilean Air Force (FACh, per its Spanish acronym) had set up a temporary air base. Since February 1st, FAP has been based in the town of Pencahue in the Maule region.
Since the beginning of operations, Capitan Eriko Mauricio Jaramillo, commander of FAP and his Bell-212 crewmembers have provided support to the population, performing different tasks such as air medical evacuations, search-and-rescue operations, and reconnaissance flights in coordination with FACh.
“We did flybys with Chilean firefighter personnel with the goal of evaluating the damage caused by the fires, which have done a lot of damage. The blaze has destroyed thousands of hectares,” Capt. Mauricio told Diálogo. “We have the necessary capabilities to carry out operations day and night. We are ready to fly 24 hours a day if the Chilean authorities request that we do so,” he said proudly.
FAP conducts permanent military operation flights in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley in Peru in support of the region’s social and economic development. It also offers permanent air support to the Civil Defense System.
“It is not the same thing to operate in territory we know, like Peru, than operating in another country. However, the constant training and the combined joint exercises at the national and international level allow us to operate securely and effectively, in this case, with our brothers and sisters to the south,” Capt. Mauricio stressed.
For this international aid mission, Peru also sent “a forest fire technical assistance group, which joined in the efforts of the Chilean emergency teams to combat the intense fire,” José Carlos Nieto, director of the Peruvian National Service of Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP, per its Spanish acronym) told Diálogo.
“Thanks to the increase in our [firefighting] capacity, Chile was able to extinguish fires in several places, and there is no risk of them flaring back up,” Nieto remarked.
The Peruvian technical assistance group comprises firefighters from SERNANP, the Ministry of Culture, and INDECI. The majority of firefighters are from the Cusco region. Fifteen of them are certified as instructors by Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development.
Other countries are joining forces to help Chile deal with the emergency. The Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that six foreign aircraft and more than 600 firefighters and experts from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Mexico, Panama, and Peru are collaborating with more than 9,000 Chilean Armed Forces members.
General Jorge Robles Mella, commander in chief of FACh, and Chilean Defense Minister José Antonio Gómez Urrutia met with members of the FAP in the town of Pencahue to thank them for their help.
In a February 2nd press release, President Bachelet expressed her appreciation to the countries that helped in solidarity, for their provision of aircraft and firefighters.
“The cooperation of the air forces has been outstanding in fighting the forest fires,” Capt. Mauricio said. “The Peruvian Air Force has all the necessary equipment and capacities to battle the fire.”
Peru has a long history of helping countries around the world hit by natural disasters. In February 2010, FAP sent Chile a Boeing 737-200 and aid for victims of the 8.8-magnitude earthquake which shook several regions of the country.
After a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Ecuador in April 2016, FAP sent aid by means of Hercules and Spartan aircraft from the 8th Air Group. The Peruvian government also sent its largest naval logistics support unit and three military helicopters assigned to the country’s most isolated areas.
“Chile will always be able to count on Peru’s help. The Peruvian Armed Forces will always be ready to help when a country needs it. We will be in Chile as long as necessary,” Capt. Mauricio said. “International support is reciprocal,” Nieto concluded.
According to the Chilean National Forest Service, of the 148 fires reported before February 2nd, 64 are under control, nine were extinguished, and 75 remain active.