At least four other firefighters were injured.
Chile’s Ministry of Interior and Public Safety said Monday three people have died in fires that have consumed nearly 500 square miles of forest affected.
The agency, known as ONEMI, said there are 43 active fires, while 39 have been brought under control in the South American country’s Valparaíso, Maule, Bío Bío, La Araucanía, Los Lagos, O’Higgins, Metropolitana de Santiago and Los Ríos administrative divisions.
Three wildland firefighters were killed Sunday January 15 while battling a fire in the commune of Vichuquén, Maule Region of Chile. An ongoing drought and variable winds led to extreme fire behavior when the accident occurred.
According to Cooperative.cl the deceased were identified as:
- Ricardo Salas, head of the Maqui 3 brigade,
- Wilfredo Salgado, crew chief Maqui 3 and,
- Sergio Faúndez, head of the second crew Maqui 6.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency in the affected regions.
“We face the greatest forest disaster in our history, with an affected area 20 times greater than in 2016, but we will overcome the emergency,” Bachelet said in a statement. “I am grateful for all the brigades, firefighters, military, private workers and volunteers who fight the fires in the first line.”
About 4,000 people, including Chilean troops, firefighters and volunteers, are working to douse the flames. Officials have deployed about 40 airplanes and helicopters.
In addition to the deaths, ONEMI said 142 people have been injured and 158 people have been displaced, while 81 homes have been destroyed.
Firefighters in Chile have been very busy in recent weeks. The pilot of a single engine air tanker was killed December 28 when the aircraft crashed about 15 kilometers from the town of Santa Juana after working on a wildfire in the Bío Bío region.