Disasters & Accidents

More than 336,000 hectares razed as Chile wildfires rage

(Update 1: Updates and adds details throughout, changes head, lede)

Concepción, Chile, Feb 9 (EFE).- The wildfires that have devastated central Chile over the past week have razed more than 366,000 hectares, about twice the size of London, with 95 fires still uncontrolled, according to the country’s disaster management agency Senapred on Thursday.

Nearly 300,000 hectares burned in the first two days when the weather conditions were most adverse – with winds of 30 kilometers per hour, temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius and air humidity below 30 percent – and with the fewest emergency services available.

In recent hours, the flames have spread in the regions of Ñuble and La Araucanía, where a total of 55,000 and 91,000 hectares respectively have already burned, although the most affected continues to be Biobío region, occupying about half of the total area razed (159,000 hectares).

At least 1,206 buildings have been destroyed, of which 602 are in the Biobío, 305 in Ñuble and 296 in La Araucanía.

Several communities received evacuation orders in Biobío on Thursday night.

The Chilean army imposed a curfew in 28 communes in the three regions. The measure will enter into force at midnight local time (03:00 GMT) until 5 am.

The decision was adopted a few hours after President Gabriel Boric raised the possibility during a visit to Santa Juana and in the midst of an acute controversy over the suitability of movement restrictions.

Requested by groups of businessmen, it is opposed by the aid and emergency services fighting the fires because it complicates rapid action against new outbreaks and makes evacuation work difficult if the flames spread.

The fires, which are a week old and have still not been brought under control, have caused the deaths of 24 people and left more than 5,500 homeless.

The lack of means (the fire brigade is entirely run by volunteers), the poor management of the forests and adverse weather conditions have accelerated the tragedy, the most serious of its nature so far in the country.

About 30 people have been arrested to date for their suspected responsibility over the starting of the fires, most of them due to negligence.

Earlier in the day, the government presented 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 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. EFE


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