Field school brought together key actors for fire prevention in La Araucanía

A day with the residents of the Ecologies of Fire cycle and a dialogue between researchers, representatives of different public services and territorial managers who support fire prevention, formed the field school – escuela de campo– carried out together with the Smart Forests project of the University of Cambridge, which seeks to explore the influence of technology applied to forest management in various territories around the world, including the Araucanía Region in Chile.


A field trip with narrative explorations around the works of the five residents of the Ecologies of Fire residency cycle, in Bosque Pehuén – an area protected by our foundation – and a day of transdisciplinary dialogue, were part of the activities of the field school inserted in the Smart Forests project. In this dialogue,  more than thirty key actors discussed community work, networking and technologies for fire prevention at the University of La Frontera (UFRO), Temuco.

Based on the recommendations and strategies raised at the meeting held in Temuco, we will seek to collectively design a pilot community plan, aimed at the management and prevention of fires in the Palguín area, part of the Araucarias Biosphere Reserve, one of the territorial nodes of the Chilean Biosphere Reserve Network, a territorial management figure belonging to a global UNESCO program.

Those invited to participate in the field school came from regional public services (such as Conaf Araucanía region, the administration of the Villarrica National Park and Seremi de Medio Ambiente); territorial management organisations (such as the Community Fire Prevention Network and professionals from the Arca Sur Foundation); and researchers from the UFRO and the Catholic University of Temuco (UCT). In addition, two of the residents – Valeria Palma and Gianna Salamanca – were present at the workshop.

The conservation director of our foundation, Amerindia Jaramillo, explained that these dialogues constitute “relevant sources of information that will help identify gaps and opportunities for the design of a better community fire prevention plan for the Palguín basin, part of the work that will be held for a second field school in the latter semester of this year”,  which will consist of a series of workshops that will seek to transmit concepts about the prevention and control of forest fires and, at the same time, reveal traditional and ancestral knowledge of local communities to develop a community prevention plan.

 Diverse perspectives on community prevention

Before the conversation took place, presentations were given by Jennifer Gabrys, director of Smart Forests; Paola Méndez, representative of the Arca Sur Foundation; Fernanda Romero, coordinator of the Altos de Cantillana Natural Reserve and president of Así Conserva Chile; and Ignacio Gutiérrez Crocco along with Sebastián Riffo from the Arts and Disasters Unit (Desartes), of the Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (Cigiden) .

Gabrys, who addressed how firefighting practices, networks and technologies are changing, expressed that field schools seek to “articulate a space to exchange socio-natural, scientific and technocratic points of view that engage people in inspiring ways.” In addition, she reported that Smart Forests has replicated this type of initiative in other countries, such as Indonesia, where links between the carbon market and working communities have been explored; while in the Netherlands data on biodiversity for conservation have been investigated in the context of an ecovillage, among others.

Another of the exponents was Paola Méndez, from the Arca Sur Foundation, referring to community tools for the prevention of forest fires and the need to include communities comprehensively in the decision-making chain, as well as “implement plans that are tailored in both their design and implementation to local dynamics and their problems.”

For her part, Fernanda Romero presented the work carried out by the natural reserve she coordinates, which suffered a fire in December 2023, in line with lessons learned and local coordination. Among her reflections, she explained that “a support network for prevention is built over the years with neighborhood committees, local businesses and volunteer support.” To this she added that “the emergency does not end in the summer, but continues with a restoration plan” and that, likewise, Chile still needs to raise awareness of the risk that forest fires imply, especially in rural areas.

Regarding the presentation by Ignacio Gutiérrez and Sebastián Riffo from Desartes, both presented the work carried out by CIGIDEN and this Unit in particular, which promotes “the crossing between interdisciplinary meetings, the construction of a seedbed of art projects, the circulation of works, and the line of research where a public archive of disasters is inserted along with disseminating, producing and promoting projects based on art and culture for the study and intervention of disasters in Chile”. In their presentation, they also shared details about the “Affects of the disaster” project, which corresponds to an immersive scenic installation that explores the affective dimension in the face of socio-environmental disasters. The work sought to convey the experience of the Santa Olga fires, the pollution in Puchuncaví, and the drought in Quillagua.

Inputs for a pilot plan

Current fire prevention practices; community networks and planning; as well as technologies used for this objective, were the topics addressed. The first stage focused on the development and sharing of fire prevention experiences and initiatives where representatives of specific areas discussed separately (public services, academia and territorial managers).

From the academy they identified practices such as building with flame-retardant materials, firebreaks and registration of ancestral and local practices; Meanwhile, local managers highlighted the relevance of addressing individual and collective participation and responsibility in prevention plans when pruning and carrying out actions aimed at managing and adapting to climate change. For their part, the public service highlighted the restriction on burning agricultural or household waste, the ban on fire in the summer season and valued the development of education programs with local communities, among other issues.

Likewise, in terms of networks, they highlighted the role of organizations such as the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service ( Senapred), the UC Center for Local Development (Cedel), the UCT Territorial Planning Laboratory Center, and the Center for Intercultural and Indigenous Studies (CIIR); while the territorial managers referred to the importance of the role of schools, municipalities and universities. For their part, public services highlighted the link between the Government and municipal emergency units, community participation in risk management and public-private coordination.

Finally, regarding technologies, the first sector (academic) pointed out resources such as fire simulators, fuel models and geographic information systems (GIS); while the managers were familiar with the fire detection systems of Conaf and forestry brigades; fire and smoke detection cameras; weather stations and the use of social networks. Public services pointed out the importance of satellite images, drones, telesurveillance and simulation tools.

         The last stage of the field school consisted of a multi-sector debate where the discussion was expanded to propose future strategies and practices that could improve the design and implementation of community plans to be developed in mountain territories, such as developing baselines, maps of key actors, environmental education from childhood and territorial planning carried out with the communities. Regarding the importance of local networks, the relevance of communications and the standardization of information was highlighted; while regarding technology, ideas emerged such as digital literacy and preventive education and strengthening access to satellite technology in rural areas and with little connectivity.

         Regarding the next steps, the school participants proposed various recommendations for the design of community fire prevention plans at the pilot level, such as territorial planning at the basin and property scale; consider the value of prevention to open new avenues of financing; educate, disseminate, raise awareness and communicate; increase access to resources to make information more accessible and strengthen local governance, along with carrying out environmental education campaigns to generate a sense of territorial belonging.