Michele Steinberg and Lucian Deaton from NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations team were recently invited to attend the CONAF (Consiglio nazionale dei Dottori Agronomi e Dottori Forestali) Conference in Chile to take part in a global discussion regarding climate change and its impact on the Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI). Representatives from CONAF, CALFire, California government agencies, the U.S. Embassy, other global wildfire partners and NFPA were in attendance. California and Chile share many similarities in climate and topography, and are collaborating to share resources.
NFPA briefed attendees at the bi-national Chile-California seminar on Firewise, the community empowerment program that emphasizes neighborhood mitigation efforts in wildfire-risk landscapes. Firewise teaches people how to adapt to living with wildfire and encourages residents to work together and take action to prevent losses. There are more than 1350 recognized Firewise communities in the United States.
A small contingent from the conference then ventured out in the community to learn more about the impact of climate change and the threat of wildfire in Chile. Delegates learned about drought and the tremendous impact it has had in Chile. The effect of global warming goes beyond forest fires there; oftentimes Chileans subsist on what they raise and if it doesn’t rain, crops don’t grow, and people and livestock don’t eat.
During their travels, the group met with an indigenous Mapuche community, a large minority population in Chile and Argentina that pre-dated Spanish colonialism. The Mapuche have a different culture and independence – highlighted by the fact that they enjoy isolated living on an island called Isla Huapi in the middle of Lago Ranco, a giant lake. They are not, however, independent – they are interdependent on modern society, other Chileans and the global economy to survive.
Meeting with international climate change leaders and WUI innovators, and touring tribal communities in Chile will not solve wildfire problems, drought and the pollution issues that are causing concern in that country. Sharing success stories, introducing effective resources and establishing cultural insight, however, did have an impact. Just as the Firewise program in the U.S. has provided validation of wildfire challenges and recognition of positive, proactive prevention efforts – NFPA’s recent visit to Chile was extremely valuable to the Chilean people and to the organization’s ongoing efforts to effect positive change in the WUI.