Fri, Jan 27, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Death toll from Chilean wildfires climbs to six

AFP and Reuters, SANTIAGO

Firefighters dig trenches in an effort to stop the advancement of a forest fire in Concepcion, Chile, on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

Four firefighters and two police officers have been killed battling the worst wildfires in Chile’s modern history in the central-south regions, officials said on Wednesday, as a massive Boeing 747-400 water bomber arrived on loan from the US to help extinguish the blazes.

“I can now say officially that there are two more fatalities — two Chilean police who were found in the Maule River,” Chilean Minister of the Interior and Public Security Mario Fernandez said, raising the total death toll to six.

Earlier in the day, a firefighter died after getting stuck while trying to help a family escape from their home near the city of Constitucion, a source in the fire service told reporters.

Over the past week, three other firefighters died and another three were injured, authorities said.

Multiple blazes have ravaged 238,000 hectares and are growing, Chile’s National Forestry Corp said in a statement, adding that 35 fires were still out of control.

Frantic locals have been joining in efforts to tackle the blaze to save their homes, animals and farmland.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday ordered extra funds to fight what she called the country’s worst forest fires ever.

At least 4,000 people have been evacuated, the Chilean National Office of Emergency said on Tuesday.

The fires have struck mainly in sparsely populated rural areas in the central regions of O’Higgins and El Maule.

International help from France, the US, Peru and Mexico has been pouring into Chile as the fires swept through forested hills and into neighboring towns, scorching homes, industry and the region’s world-renowned vineyards.

Forest fires are a regular feature of Chile’s hot, arid summers, but a nearly decade-long drought combined with historically high temperatures have created tinder-dry conditions.

“We have never seen something of this size, never in Chile’s history. And the truth is the [firefighting] forces are doing everything that is humanly possible and will continue to do so until the fires are contained and controlled,” Bachelet said, as she visited the hard-hit Maule region.

At least some of the fires might have been started intentionally and there have been a number of arrests in relation to ongoing investigations, Bachelet said.

Some Chileans, such as Susana Molina, 82, a boutique wine producer, have seen their livelihoods destroyed.

“All my fields burned, there were 4 hectares that I had and it all burned,” said Molina, who is from Cauquenes in the Maule region.

About 100 small vineyards in Cauquenes alone had been damaged so far, the local industry association said.

The forestry industry has also been affected, with smaller outfits the most vulnerable.

Chile’s forest products industry, the nation’s second-biggest by exports after copper mining, is led by Empresas Copec subsidiary Arauco, Empresas CMPC and Masisa.

Chile, along the seismically active Pacific Rim, is no stranger to natural disasters.

It is often walloped by earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and strong storms.

As a result, its emergency response teams, building codes and residents are usually well-prepared to confront such situations.

However, the scale of this season’s fires have overwhelmed authorities.

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