Mohsin Abbas / Santiago Times Staff
SANTIAGO – At least 11 people have been killed and thousands displaced in a chain of worst wildfires in half a century that unleashed a catastrophe over wide swaths of central and southern Chile, according to the government.
The burn area has doubled over the past two days, according to the national forestry agency CONAF.
Destroying thousands of homes and consuming around 130,000 hectares (more than 321,000 acres) of forest and grasslands, there are still at least 130 active wildfires continued to burn.
High temperatures of more than 35 degrees Celsius and strong winds also were hindering attempts to douse them.
Many of those killed are firefighters battling more than 100 separate fires, according to government reports.
“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,” President Michelle Bachelet said, as she visited the hard-hit Maule region, earlier this week.
Using buckets, garden hoses, and branches, frantic locals have been joining in efforts to tackle the fire to save their homes, animals and farmland.
“It’s hell. It’s chaos,” said Fernando Calkin, a fire volunteer. “We have been here for 11 days, and it is time for it to stop. There are some days I’d like to rest, but I can’t stay at home watching the fire on TV.”
More than 4,000 firefighters were working to douse the flames, according to Bachelet who said that at least some of the fires may have been started intentionally. A number of people have been arrested in relation to ongoing investigations.
International help from France, the United States, Peru and Mexico has been pouring into Chile as the fires swept through forested hills and into neighbouring towns, scorching homes, industry and the region’s world-renowned vineyards. The country last week declared a state of emergency.
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 16 dead, according to an official. (with files from news agencies)