Disasters & Accidents

Chile reports progress in taming wildfires

Santiago, Feb 14 (EFE).- The battle against the wildfires that have caused 24 deaths, forced thousands from their homes and devastated nearly 400,000 hectares (987,654 acres) of land in south-central Chile over the last 11 days has entered a “phase of containment,” authorities said Tuesday.

“We can say that the emergency situation is in greater containment,” Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve told a press conference in Santiago, though acknowledging that 60 fires continue to burn out of control.

The flames advanced by more than 40,000 hectares between Feb. 10 and 11, compared with roughly 2,300 hectares during the Feb. 12-13 period, he said.

The latest bulletin from the disaster management agency (Senapred) said that fires have consumed 197,500 hectares in the Biobio region, 100,000 hectares in La Araucania and 63,800 hectares in Ñuble.

Upwards of 1,500 homes have been destroyed and the number of people affected by the blazes is approaching 6,800.

While the situation in the disaster zone has improved, the fire danger is expected to increase Wednesday in Greater Santiago as temperatures rise.

By the weekend, the heat is forecast to spread southward to Maule, Ñuble, Biobio and La Araucania.

“The emergency has not ended, and the conditions of fire risk will continue during this weekend,” Monsalve said.

More than 10,700 Chilean and international firefighters remained at work Tuesday in the disaster zone, assisted by 140 aircraft, and Monsalve said that as progress is made in the south-central area, resources will be freed up to deal with potential new fires in other parts of the country.

The director of Chile’s Conaf forest service, Christian Little, said that a quarter of the roughly 600 fires detected so far this season were the result of human activity.

Police said Tuesday that 31 people are in custody in connection with the fires and are likely to face charges ranging from negligence to arson.

A combination of factors, including poor forest management and a heat wave, have contributed to the worst fire season on record in Chile, which lacks full-time professional firefighters.

The Chilean government is providing temporary housing for people who lost their homes to the flames and plans to provide each affected family with up to 1.5 million pesos ($1,885) in cash on top of other kinds of assistance. EFE ima/dr

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