Fresh wildfires in the center of Chile have consumed some 3,500 hectares (8,648 acres) of land, causing at least 3,000 people to be evacuated, authorities confirmed on Wednesday (February 22), continuing the nation’s worst period of forest fires in modern history.
Parral was placed on red alert and families were evacuated from the sectors of Catillo and Termas de Catillo as a preventative measure, but no deaths or injuries were recorded.
“It is out of control, in fact, an uncle of mine had a house there, and it looks like it was burnt, we could not get there in time and we tried to cover the area from here, but the fire came from an area down below, beside the estuary, hopefully it won’t go any further, we are going to have to remain on guard,” said local resident Felipe Garrido.
“It was unbelievable, the fire spread 200 to 300 meters (656 to 984 feet) in seconds, it was unbelievable. We had fire-fighters, police, soldiers… They asked us to evacuate the area,” added fellow local, Jonathan Flores.
Director of the National Emergency Office (Onemi), Ricardo Toro, said the fire had swept towards Parral in the Maule region from the Biobio region, having crossed the Perquelauquen river.
He asked people to maintain alert to official information and not return to their towns prematurely.
“The emergency is developing, so the local population cannot return to the town of Catillo or the zone from which they were evacuated until the authorities indicate there are no more (risks), that is why people have to keep informed about the situation through local media,” said Toro.
Director of the National Forest Association (Conaf), Aaron Cavieres, said 16 brigades and 390 officials were working in the region on Wednesday. He added that officials were working to track the fire’s direction in order to determine a control strategy.
“We have to determine the new (safety) perimeter and detect (the fire’s) behavior based on the climatic conditions in order to determine our principal line of action. This is initially concentrated on 1) protecting isolated houses which are in the front line and 2) keeping it away from areas with high-danger fuels,” said Cavieres.
The fire in Parral is one of 41 active fires in Chile, as raging forest fires this year have consumed over 580,000 hectares (1,433,000 acres), according to official figures.
The fires have killed 11 people, and destroyed nearly 1,500 homes, costing the government $333 million dollars, Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes told reporters on Friday (February 17).
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-like conditions in the nation’s central regions.