Our new paper, “Extreme fire weather in Chile driven by climate change and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)“, is published in Scientific Reports (IF: 4.6).

The paper and its supporting information can be downloaded at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-024-52481-x.

Authors: Raúl R. Cordero, Sarah Feron, Alessandro Damiani, Jorge Carrasco, Cyrus Karas, Chenghao Wang, Clarisse T. Kraamwinkel, and Anne Beaulieu

Abstract: A string of fierce fires broke out in Chile in the austral summer 2023, just six years after the record-breaking 2017 fire season. Favored by extreme weather conditions, fire activity has dramatically risen in recent years in this Andean country. A total of 1.7 million ha. burned during the last decade, tripling figures of the prior decade. Six of the seven most destructive fire seasons on record occurred since 2014. Here, we analyze the progression during the last two decades of the weather conditions associated with increased fire risk in Central Chile (30°–39° S). Fire weather conditions (including high temperatures, low humidity, dryness, and strong winds) increase the potential for wildfires, once ignited, to rapidly spread. We show that the concurrence of El Niño and climate-fueled droughts and heatwaves boost the local fire risk and have decisively contributed to the intense fire activity recently seen in Central Chile. Our results also suggest that the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean variability modulates the seasonal fire weather in the country, driving in turn the interannual fire activity. The signature of the warm anomalies in the Niño 1 + 2 region (0°–10° S, 90° W–80° W) is apparent on the burned area records seen in Central Chile in 2017 and 2023.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-52481-x

Fig. 1. A severe drought worsened by persistent heatwaves fueled fierce fires in February 2023 in Central Chile. (a) Precipitation for February 2023 relative to the 1981–2010 mean. The dry February 2023 came on top of the megadrought that has affected central Chile since 2008. (b) Air temperature for February 2023 relative to the 1981–2010 mean. February 2023 was the warmest on record in Central Chile. (c) Fire Weather Index (FWI) for February 2023 relative to the 1981–2010 mean. Extreme anomalies were registered in the regions severely affected by fires. (d) False-color image acquired on 3 February 2023 by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 showing the burn scar of Santa Juana Fire, in the BioBio Region, 100 km southeast of Concepcion, the second most populated city in the country.