Chile wildfires kill at least 23, injure hundreds
Dozens of wildfires that have swept through Chile prompted the government to extend an emergency order to another region on Saturday, as a scorching summer heat wave complicates efforts to control the blazes that have caused at least 23 dead so far.
More than 1,100 people have sought refuge in shelters while at least 979 people are believed to have been injured by the raging fires, according to an official briefing later on Saturday.
The latest emergency ordinance covers the southern region of Araucania, alongside the previously declared Biobio and Nuble regions, located near the middle of the South American country’s long Pacific coast.
“The weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out (the fires) that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha told reporters at a press conference in the capital Santiago. .
“We need to reverse this curve,” she added, noting that as of Friday 76 more fires had broken out.
Officials said 16 more fires erupted on Saturday as local Southern Hemisphere summer temperatures topped 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
The three sparsely populated regions covered by the emergency ordinances are home to many farms, including grapes, apples and berries for export, as well as large tracts of forest land.
Officials told reporters on Saturday that the governments of Spain, the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela had offered help, including planes and firefighters.
On Friday, an emergency support helicopter in La Araucania crashed, killing its pilot and a mechanic, officials said.
Authorities reported that 11 of the victims, almost half of the victims reported so far, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located about 500 km south of Santiago.
Since late last week, helicopters have dropped fire retardants on raging fires as clouds of smoke clog roads. Firefighters and residents are struggling to contain the flames against a backdrop of a hazy orange sky.
The orders allow for the deployment of additional troops and resources to deal with the natural disaster.
Some 99,000 acres have been scorched by the fires, according to official data released Friday evening, an area larger than the US city of Philadelphia.
National forestry agency CONAF reported on Saturday that 80 of the total 231 forest fires are actively being fought, while 151 of them are under control.
Officials said more than 90% of wildfires were smothered before spreading beyond 12 acres.
But for those unlucky enough to be caught in one of the out-of-control wildfires, immediate evacuation was the only option.
“I left with what I had on me,” said Carolina Torres, who fled an approaching fire near the town of Puren in the Araucania region.
“I think everyone here did the same because the tides turned and it was all about grabbing it right away.”
On Friday, President Gabriel Boric cut his summer vacation short and visited Nuble and Biobio, pledging to ensure affected areas receive all necessary support.
Boric also pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been started intentionally, but offered no further details.
New York Post