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2024 Chile Wildfires

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Deadly fires raged through Chile during the first week of February 2024, following days of extreme heat exceeding 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit. Chile’s Valparaíso region, specifically the coastal beach city of Viña del Mar, home to 300,000 people, suffered significant damage.

These were Chile’s deadliest forest fires in history and the most devastating disaster in the country since the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 500 people and caused $30 billion in losses.

According to the Chilean National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (SENAPRED per its acronym in Spanish), at the height of the fire outbreak, there were 165 active fires. The simultaneous ignition of four fires in the same forest on Feb. 2 led some officials to cite arson as a possible cause to investigate.

Since the fires, several firefighters and residents have told New York Times reporters that insufficient water and empty fire hydrants hampered efforts to contain the fire’s advance.

A state of emergency and two days of mourning were declared by President Gabriel Boric, who also said he would make all resources available as necessary to help deal with the fires. France24 quoted Boric as saying, “The country faces a ‘tragedy of very great magnitude.’” The health ministry also declared a health alert for Valparaíso.

The wildfires left at least 1,600 people homeless in the densely populated city, where entire neighborhoods were burned. Several hospitals and nursing homes were evacuated due to power outages caused by the fire.

The hilly landscape surrounding Viña del Mar made evacuation, fire fighting, and search and rescue more complicated. Other fires burned in mountainous areas, also complicating responses.

Just over a month after the wildfires, authorities battled another round of devastating wildfires on March 13 along the same coast in the Valparaiso region. A red alert issued until March 15 showed the fires were extinguished on March 15 and contained within the early hours of March 14. Approximately 16 homes and 32 individuals were affected, in addition to six firefighters who were treated for injuries.

(Photo: The forest fire brigade works tirelessly to extinguish fire outbreaks in Chile. Credit: Presidencia de Chile via X)

Before the most recent decade, Chile was not typically prone to extreme wildfires. Since 2014, “six of the seven most destructive fire seasons on record occurred,” including the “record-breaking 2017 fire season.”

At least “1.7 million ha. [4.2 million acres] burned during the last decade, tripling figures of the prior decade.”

Wildfires in February 2023 destroyed nearly 1 million acres of land and killed more than 22 people.

Since the deadly wildfires, several reports have been released that debate whether climate change worsened Chile’s wildfires. Chile has been experiencing a megadrought for over a decade and experienced an intense heat wave just prior to the February wildfires.

A new analysis by World Weather Attribution found the probability of these conditions stands at 3% in any given year. This number isn’t significantly higher than before human-caused climate change.

Meanwhile, ACAPS reported that the current situation was created from several factors. El Niño has worsened the current drought and climate change has lengthened the duration of fire seasons worldwide by almost 20% compared to the late 1970’s. “This confluence of circumstances has established an environment where fires easily ignite and spread rapidly.”

Unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds also made controlling the wildfires difficult.

According to Down to Earth, “Chile has received 30 per cent less rainfall than normal in the past decade, with rainfall deficits of 80-90 per cent. This has transformed the landscape of the country from lush and green to plain dry.”

A report by the World Meteorological Organization cited in the article also said the drought has led to “water scarcity, food insecurity, loss of livelihoods and massively impacted biodiversity.”

Chile was not the only country in South America to face wildfires in 2024. Fires ravaged more than 42,000 acres in Colombia in January due to El Niño. There were also fires in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela.

Video and pictures from the region showed the extent of the devastation. One of the most affected areas was the city of Viña del Mar, where at least 98% of its famous century-old botanical gardens were consumed by fire.

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Key facts
  • The last total of deaths – provided by SENAPRED on Feb. 6 – was 131, with just 35 people identified. As of March 21, no further updates had been provided.
  • While many people had been reported missing in the aftermath of the fires, with some areas inaccessible at that time, no further reports of official numbers have been provided. After a disaster, the list of missing people usually shrinks as communication channels are restored and people can make contact with those presumed missing.
  • The Pan American Health Organization reported that approximately 1,250 people were injured.
  • The fires affected about 7,000 people in Quilpué City, Marga Marga Province and 31,000 people in Viña del Mar City, Valparaíso Province.
  • According to UNICEF, almost 140,000 acres had burned by Feb. 21. More than 36,000 acres of this was in Valparaíso.
  • The fires damaged nearly 15,000 homes, according to authorities and destroyed about 6,000.
  • BBC interviewed a resident in Viña del Mar’s El Olivar neighborhood who stated that most residents were older adults, which makes evacuations more challenging.
Housing crisis

According to officials, Chile’s housing crisis, which worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic, amplified the impact of the fire.

They said that “70 percent of the region’s destroyed homes were concentrated in irregular settlements called ‘tomas ilegales.’ The conditions in many of the settlements were so combustible — improper forest management, trash-strewn streets, houses built with cheap, flammable materials — that whole communities burned in a matter of minutes.”

These settlements vary in complexity and services. Some are wooden shacks, while others are older and established, with electricity and running water. However, roads are unpaved, and the amount of brush and trash present increased the risk of fire spreading.

Officials with the Precarious Settlements Program said that 1,721 homes in 25 camps – mostly settlements in Viña del Mar and Quilpué – were damaged by the fires.

Villa Botania’s survival

Unlike many areas that were ravaged by fire, one community showed how fire preparedness and prevention activities can change the outcome of a wildfire.

As Reuters reported, “Before the flames crept close, the community cut back vegetation, pruned foliage and cleared trash surrounding the hilltop homes. They also brought in water to keep soil wet, and a wall and trench around the area kept the blaze from coming closer.”

Thanks to these efforts, the Botania neighborhood of Quilpué, Chile, emerged from the fires unscathed. A drone video of the area shows Villa Botania atop a mountain, surrounded by a burned landscape.

Villa Botania is one of 27 recipients of a “comprehensive fire safety program, a joint endeavor financed by USAID, Conaf, and Caritas Chile. The initiative provided not just the tools—axes, rakes, hoes, and water backpacks—but also the training necessary to wield them effectively.”

Costing approximately $20,000 for the community, this project taught residents the skills necessary to fight wildfires, including pruning foliage, water conservation and vegetation management.

Pre-fire mitigation is a key activity for funders to support, especially as climate change affects temperature and rainfall levels.

As residents return to neighborhoods, they will assess and remediate the damages. This will range from repairing damaged structures to a full rebuild. It’s important to note that fires often leach deadly toxins into the soil, resulting in a lengthier clean-up time.

Support for lost livelihoods, interim shelter, food assistance and protection will all be necessary at this stage.

Cash assistance

As with most disasters and emergencies, cash donations are recommended by disaster experts as they allow for on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the most significant area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs and quickly re-establishing access to basic needs.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy recommends cash as a donation method and a recovery strategy. Direct cash assistance can allow families to purchase items and services that address their multiple needs. It gives each family flexibility and choice, ensuring that support is relevant and timely. Cash-based approaches to disaster recovery also give people the freedom to choose how they rebuild their lives and provide a pathway to economic empowerment.

Support local organizations

It is important to provide support to local organizations throughout all disaster phases. These organizations are better informed about local culture than outside entities and will be on the ground for years to come.

For international organizations, CDP recommends looking for organizations with a history of working in the country, connections to the community and locally hired staff, as they can navigate issues faster than an organization that has never worked there.

Support at-risk populations

Those in already precarious situations — such as older adults, people with physical or mental health disabilities, and people living in poverty — may find their circumstances worsened in the face of disaster. Organizations working with at-risk populations must have plans to mitigate the disaster’s impacts. Organizations led by marginalized populations are also often able to build trust with affected individuals quicker than mainstream organizations.

Recent reports of the current megadrought exacerbating water supply issues and resulting in insufficient water in hydrants have reopened important discussions about unequal access to water and water system privatization. Continuing these discussions is crucial to ensure equitable policies and urban planning, keeping in mind that water companies are not obligated to install fire hydrants near informal settlements, known as ‘tomas ilegales’.

Fund wildfire and drought mitigation efforts

As Chile is in a megadrought, funders should invest in mitigation efforts. This could include research into land use patterns or other initiatives that look at sustainable agriculture, water conservation or land use.

Increasing the number of programs like the one at Villa Botania will be helpful, especially if it is expanded to the informal settlements. Additionally, smart growth efforts and planning can help mitigate wildfires or prevent them altogether.

Health and mental health

Since the fires caused many injuries, there will need to be ongoing medical care to support burn victims and those suffering from smoke inhalation (which may also have long-term effects). People with chronic illnesses or existing diseases may be affected by services interruptions.

The high number of deaths, loss of home and loss of livelihoods may lead to increased stress, mental health issues and grief.

The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) has a Global Recovery Fund that provides donors with an efficient, flexible solution to support recovery efforts for people affected by disasters and crises worldwide. Select “2024 Chile Wildfires” from the dropdown menu.

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Philanthropic contributions

If you have questions about donating to the CDP Global Recovery Fund, need help with your disaster-giving strategy or want to share how you’re responding to this disaster, please contact development.

(Photo: The Forest Fire Reinforcement Brigade of the Military Police Regiment No. 1 works to extinguish fire outbreaks in San Pedro, Chile. Credit: Ejército de Chile via X)

Recovery updates

If you are a responding NGO, please send updates on how you are working on recovery from this disaster to Tanya Gulliver-Garcia.

We welcome the republication of our content. Please credit the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

Philanthropic and government support

The Chilean government responded quickly to the disaster, sending financial and human resources.

President Boric visited the region on Feb. 6 and announced measures to help survivors, including suspension of certain utility payments, donations of housing supplies and improved medical leave. One of his vacation homes on the shores of Viña del Mar was “temporarily converted into a leisure center for the children of families affected by the fires.”

USAID supported the work of ADRA International and Caritas to deliver cash assistance to families affected by the fires.

Walmart Foundation and Walmart Chile announced a $1 million social investment to support victims of the wildfires. In addition to making donations to nonprofit organizations, the plan includes volunteer times to organizations responding in rehabilitation spaces and restoring facilities for children.

More ways to help

As with most disasters, experts recommend cash donations, which allow on-the-ground agencies to direct funds to the greatest area of need, support economic recovery and ensure donation management does not detract from disaster recovery needs.

CDP has also created a list of suggestions for foundations to consider related to disaster giving. These include:

  • Take the long view: Even while focusing on immediate needs, remember that it will take some time for the full range of needs to emerge. Be patient in planning for disaster funding. Recovery will take a long time, and funding will be needed throughout.
  • Recognize there are places private philanthropy can help that government agencies might not: Private funders have opportunities to develop innovative solutions to respond to and help prevent or mitigate future disasters that the government cannot execute.
  • Prioritize investments in local organizations: Local leaders and organizations play a vital role in providing immediate relief and setting the course for long-term equitable recovery in communities after a disaster. However, these leaders and organizations are mostly under-resourced and underfunded. Grant to locally-led entities as much as possible.
  • All funders are disaster philanthropists: Even if your organization does not work in a particular geographic area or fund immediate relief efforts, you can look for ways to tie disaster funding into your existing mission. If you focus on education, health, children or vulnerable populations, disasters present prime opportunities for funding.
  • Ask the experts: If you are considering supporting an organization that is positioned to work in an affected area, do some research. CDP and InterAction can provide resources and guidance about organizations working in affected communities.

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Drought is often defined as an unusual period of drier than normal weather that leads to a water shortage. Drought causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other disaster.



Weather can significantly affect the frequency and severity of wildfires. Prolonged drought can extend prime wildfire season, making blazes more likely. Additionally, high temperatures and low humidity can quickly dry out vegetation which then becomes potential fuel.

Extreme Heat

Extreme Heat

While the average temperature continues to increase at a moderate pace, climate change has caused more frequent extreme weather events, particularly extreme heat.