The Chilean authorities have managed to “significantly reduce” the spread of forest fires that have been sweeping through central and southern regions, president Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday.
The fires have claimed 11 lives and engulfed an area of almost 380,000ha spread across six regions. The worst affected are O’Higgins, Biobío and Maule.
As fire fighters battle to regain control of the blazes, a clearer picture is emerging about the impact on the country’s fruit production.
"The situation is serious but fortunately it has not affected the fruit industry directly," said Ronald Bown, president of exporter association Asoex. "We are hopeful that things will be resolved soon."
Giving an assessment of the situation to reporters on Monday, agriculture minister Carlos Furche said: “The fires occurred mostly in un-irrigated coastal and interior zones where there is no intensive agriculture – with the exception of a few vineyards and olive groves. “Fruit and vegetable production is concentrated in the central valley and this has not been touched at all.”
Berry and stonefruit harvests are in full swing in the affected regions, while the new topfruit and table grape seasons are about to get underway.
Andrés Armstrong of the Chilean Blueberry Committee told Fruitnet that the fires were not affecting areas where berries are currently being harvested.
“We have had reports of a small number of blueberry farms catching fire and others that have lost fruit due to the effects of the heat. Others have not been able to rely on people getting to the farms to harvest the fruit because they’ve been fighting the fire and protecting their property. But overall the impact on blueberry production has been minimal,” he said.
Alexis Hernández of Curicó-based Exportadora Andinexia told Fruitnet that he had received isolated reports of damage to grape plantings in the coastal zone of the O'Higgins region, as well as to hazelnut production in the Los Angeles area.
"Generally, fruit production areas have escaped the fires - if there is to be any effect, it will be from the impact on the climate of the fires," he said.