Disasters & Accidents

Chile moves to help families affected by wildfires

Santiago, Feb 9 (EFE).- A week after the start of wildfires in central and southern Chile that have left 24 people dead and devastated more than 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres), the government presented Thursday a package of measures to aid those who have lost homes, farms and businesses.

Authorities intend to “respond as soon as possible in the matter of various types of assistance, benefits and accompaniment for the community and municipalities affected by the fires,” government spokeswoman Camila Vallejo said in Santiago.

Starting next Monday, she said, affected families will begin receiving the recovery payment of 1.5 million pesos ($1,875) that President Gabriel Boric announced earlier this week.

People left homeless will be offered temporary housing, while tax breaks will be extended to owners of small and mid-size businesses that saw their operations disrupted, including farms and ranches.

Children of families forced from their homes are assured of resuming classes at the start of the academic year next month and the government will provide veterinary care for pets and livestock.

The government is starting with these steps because they are the ones that can be implemented most quickly, Social Services Undersecretary Francisca Perales said.

As of mid-day Thursday, Chile was contending with 90 active fires, according to Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve, who said that 28 people have been arrested on suspicion of responsibility for the blazes that have consumed 343,748 hectares.

He cautioned that the fire risk is rising in regions farther north, such as Maule, O’Higgins and Metropolitana (Greater Santiago), but is expected to recede over the weekend as temperatures return to normal after reaching 40 C (104 F) amid an unprecedented heat wave.

The flames have destroyed 1,180 homes and 5,569 people are eligible for assistance, the disaster management agency (Senapred) said in its latest bulletin.

Thousands of Chilean and foreign firefighters remain hard at work, especially in the hard-hit region of Biobio, where the district military commander, Jorge Keitel, imposed a midnight-to-dawn curfew in eight towns.

His counterparts in the neighboring regions of La Araucania and Ñuble likewise ordered curfews in several communities.

While business groups called for the curfews, first responders opposed them as potentially counter-productive in the event that evacuations become necessary.

The crisis has highlighted the shortcomings of relying exclusively on volunteer firefighters, while also drawing attention to poor practices by the forestry companies that operate in central and southern Chile. EFE mfm/dr

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