Santiago, Feb 3 (EFE).- The death toll from wildfires raging in central and southern Chile reached 12 Friday as two firefighters died in a helicopter crash, authorities said.
The crash occurred in Galvarino, a town in the La Araucania region 700 km (450 mi) south of Santiago, Agriculture Minister Esteban Valenzuela said.
“There is a swarm of fires, more than 50 among La Araucania, Biobio and Ñuble, and the clouds of smoke are very large,” he said.
Ten other people died in Santa Juana, Biobio, including four killed in road accidents while trying to flee the flames and a firefighter who succumbed to a heart attack as he battled the blaze.
The town’s mayor, Ana Albornoz, subsequently reported the discovery of five charred bodies.
The fires have consumed more than 20,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of land, destroyed a hundred homes and forced the evacuation of dozens of towns and villages.
Central and southern Chile have endured more than 13 years of drought and are currently suffering through a record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures approaching 40 C (104 F).
President Gabriel Boric interrupted his vacation Friday to travel to the affected regions and said that some of the blazes could be the result of human activity.
“There is no authorization to burn trash or refuse or anything,” he said in Concepcion, capital of the Biobio region, urging citizens to “behave responsibly.”
“It’s much easier to prevent a fire than to fight it,” the president said. EFE mmm/dr