burned lengua tree
valle Leones burned

Clearing fires in the valley, 1939-1955

The region:

In the prehispanic colonisation period the local native peoples provoked burns in the steppe and forests, as attested by several writers: George Musters (1870), Francisco Moreno, the "scientists" ca. 1900 as per Andreas Madsen (“La Patagonia Vieja”, see Publications). Fires were deliberate, there are no naturally occurring fires as there are no thunderstorms in the region (climate particularity).

“ “Pristine” areas are artifacts by humans. In Chile they exterminated megafauna and changed the landscape (15000-10000 years ago). In Monte Verde the first permanent americans (South and North) burned underbush  2 times a year” - “ The World Without Us”, Alan Weisman.

The pattern of these fires was different from the XX century’s fires: they were small and  very localised, people moved further and nature had the possibility to recover.

The region lost virtually all its ancient forest cover, and corresponding wildlife, mainly through the deliberate total clearing fires of the hispanic colonisation of the first half of the 20th century, from approximately the 1900s to the 1950s, depending on the progress of the colonisation to South. The obligation to clear the land from forest was included in the land titles when the land was distributed to the colons (or ”occupants” as called in the literature of that period) - see Publications.

The history of this ecological disaster provoked by deliberate  fires of the last century is particularly silenced: according to recent publications about 3 millions hectares of forest were burned in Aysén in that period,

accounting for 50% loss of the total vegetation cover of the region:

Patagonia crying.pdf

Geographic silences.pdf

The trees you see on hills in the region are results of these fires.

The open space you see in the region and its “tremendous”

landscape used to be an ancient forest in the beginning of the 20th century.


The land was distributed and its original land titles assigned to the properties, forming the actual PPAP, in the late 1930s. These properties were cleared by fire in 1939, all 1800 hectares of the PPAP were burned.

Subsequent cattle grazing and other agricultural activities did not allow the forest to recuperate.

Little ecological memory is left after the fire history of the region. It cannot be used to restore forest ecosystem resilience. There is normally strong ecological momentum in vegetation, and ecological amnesia in insects, and some in wildlife, after fire, but in the region time was also lost for the first.

There is some possibility to transform the effects of large disturbance by fire into some minor positive effects for the ecosystem: deadwood, insects, food for birds and bats, etc.

ecological disaster, valle Leones 1939

The PPAP in 1939,  after the burning, photos from the book of A. Heim.

High areas of the PPAP now, where the burned trees have not been used for firewood or otherwise cleared because of difficult access:

Ancient forest forest burned in the 1940s

Large lengua tree burned in the 1920s