Chile confirms 2 more deaths in wildfires, bringing death toll to 26
Santiago, Feb 6 (EFE).- The Chilean government reported Monday that two more deaths have been confirmed in the raging wildfires that have destroyed about 300,000 hectares (750,000 acres) of cropland and wooded areas and more than 1,000 homes in the central and southern parts of the country over the past week, raising the overall official death toll to 26.
The fires are affecting five regions in central and southern Chile, but the hardest hit areas have been Biobio, with 18 fatalities, La Araucania (7 deaths) and Ñuble (1 death), all areas of intensive agricultural and forestry activities.
“In five days, (the burned area) is equivalent to two years’ worth of fires,” said Interior Minister Carolina Toha at a press conference.
According to the latest figures from the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (Senapred), in addition to the people who have died, the health services so far have attended to more than 1,260 people and the number who have suffered property damage totals 3,200.
The fires, which have about 280 active foci, have also caused significant material damage, with at least 1,159 homes destroyed and huge swaths of cropland burned.
“We have a very high numbers of active fires. Despite the favorable conditions that are making the fires less aggressive, the number of fires continues to be very high,” Toha added.
Working to control and extinguish the blazes are 65 aircraft and almost 4,000 fire brigade members, including firefighters and police.
The international aid requested by the Chilean government some days ago has begun arriving in recent hours. A contingent of 50 firefighters from the Spanish army’s Military Emergency Unit landed in Santiago on Monday morning and 150 Mexican firefighters did so in the southern city of Concepcion, also on Monday.
In addition, the US “Ten Tanker” firefighting aircraft, which can dump 36,000 liters (9,500 gallons) of water at a time on active blazes, also arrived in Chile on Monday.
The fires in recent days have taken more lives than the summer 2017 catastrophe in Chile, when wildfires burned more than 500,000 hectares (1.25 million acres), mostly in the central and southern parts of the country, and killed about 10 people.
Chilean authorities also reported the arrest of 11 people for allegedly being involved in starting the fires, all of whom are facing between 5 and 20 years in prison, if convicted of arson or other crimes.