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Neighborhood survives deadly wildfire thanks to fire prevention pilot program: 'It was still there'

Programs to prevent fires and protect homes are becoming increasingly vital.

Programs to prevent fires and protect homes are becoming increasingly vital.

Photo Credit: iStock

One neighborhood in Quilpué, Chile, recently survived a wildfire that destroyed the entire area around it, the Washington Post reports

Botania's success sparked amazement on social media, with CHV Noticias writing, "What is the reason?" in happy disbelief. It is also proof that residents can protect homes from the world's growing number of wildfires, yet highlights how much work is left to be done.

In 2022, another fire damaged Chile's national botanical garden, which the Post explains is close to Botania, a community of about 80 homes. To protect the neighborhood from fires — and to test whether such protection was even possible — city officials selected Botania for a pilot program geared toward fire prevention.

A local organization called Caritas Chile led the initiative, partnering with Chilean forest officials using funds from a grant from USAID. Together, they taught the residents of Botania and 13 other areas to protect their homes.

The plan was to create a firebreak — like the one around a Hawaiian home that survived the Maui fire — by clearing out brush, trash, and dead grass in a wide strip around the neighborhood. They enlisted the community to maintain the area. Residents were also taught to soak the ground with water when a fire was approaching to slow it down even more.

"I don't work in forestry," Rodrigo Vargas, president of the Botania fire prevention organization, told the Post. "I'm just another resident. We had to learn everything from scratch to get a hold on the basic concepts."

That training paid off this year when a fire that reportedly burned down 6,000 homes and claimed at least 131 lives left Botania unscathed.

"It was one of the most beautiful things," said Vargas, describing the moment he returned to his neighborhood after the fire. "It was still there."

Programs to prevent fires and protect homes are becoming increasingly vital. As the world's rising temperatures create the perfect conditions for more wildfires, more and more homes will be at risk. Researchers are hard at work on building more fire-resistant houses, but steps like those taken in Botania's case can protect older and more vulnerable houses.

However, the Chilean program will have to step up its game to protect other nearby homes, the Post reveals. As many as 70% of the homes destroyed in the fire were part of unregulated settlements called the "tomas ilegales," which were intentionally left out of the fire prevention pilot program because it was considered too complicated to protect them. They will be included in future efforts.

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