Mohsin Abbas / Santiago Times Staff
SANTIAGO – At least 11 people have been killed in a chain of worst wildfires in half a century that unleashed a catastrophe over wide swaths of central and southern Chile.
Destroying thousands of homes and consuming around 130,000 hectares (more than 321,000 acres) of forest and grasslands, there are still at least 46 active wildfires continued to burn.
A state of catastrophe has been declared in the central regions of O’Higgins and El Maule.
Central and southern parts of the country, including the port city of Valparaiso and the capital, Santiago, as well as the regions of Biobio, La Araucania and Los Lagos had been struck by the fires, according to the country’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF).
“We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” said President Michelle Bachelet, earlier this week.
“The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires.”
Many of those killed are firefighters battling more than 100 separate fires, about half of which are still uncontrolled, according to government reports.
France, Russia, the United States and Peru have sent international help to combat the fires following last week’s declaration of a state of emergency in some of the worst-affected areas. Additionally, aid from Mexico and Colombia was expected to arrive this week.
The US Embassy in Chile said this week that US Agency for International Development was donating $100,000 USD to the nongovernmental organization Caritas Chile for the purchase and delivery of firefighting equipment, such as chainsaws and weather monitoring tools.
Additionally, the US Forest Service sent a four-member emergency response team of technical experts to work with local authorities.
Chile is vulnerable to earthquakes, forest fires, floods, and volcanic eruptions. In 2014, a wildfire swept through hundreds of homes in the Pacific coastal city of Valparaiso, leaving at least 12 dead, according to an official.
At least 2,000 homes destroyed by the blaze and 8,000 people left without a place to live.