Caritas fighting fires with knowledge and preparation in Chile

Photo by Caritas Cancha Quillay

Caritas trains community of Cancha Quillay to be alert in the event of fire. Photo by Caritas Cancha Quillay

When massive forest fires swept towards the community of Cancha Quillay in Chile, its residents were prepared.

Thanks to a Caritas project to reduce the effects of disasters, residents armed themselves with large containers of water, spades and anything else they could get their hands on to fight the spread of the fire.

The community had been drilled in what to do in the event of fire and also children in schools were taught how to react so as to avoid putting their lives at risk.

“The project really helped us organise ourselves so the forest fire didn’t catch us unaware,” said Jeanette Fuentes, one of the members of a community emergency committee, which was set up as a result of the project. “What I learnt ensured I was prepared and was calm enough to overcome my fear.”

Preparation is vital to limit the effects of fire. A fire later in the year outside Valparaíso left 15 people dead and destroyed 2,500 homes.

The extent of the fire meant that neither landlines nor mobile phones worked. Caritas had prepared the community for such an event by providing them with walkie talkies ahead of time. This enabled them to keep each other informed about the progress of the fire and to alert others if anyone found themselves in difficulty.

Nelda Marchant, president of the emergency committee, said, “It was a big relief that we had the radios which Caritas gave us. The drills we’d done really helped prepare us and the work of the community helped limit the effects of the fire.”

In fact, no one lost their life in the fire and it only reached five houses. The coordinated effort of the community limited the effects of the fire and also meant that people were able to save their belongings.

The project covered a number of communities in the region of Maule apart from Cancha Quillay. These included Pencahue, Palmas de Toconey, Curepto, Gualleco, Constitución and Putù.

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