SANTIAGO – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday visited some of the areas most affected by the forest fires that have destroyed more than 248,000 hectares (about 620,000 acres) in recent weeks, and she did not rule out that some of them could have been set on purpose.
“All the investigations under way will continue so that we can identify the cause and hopefully find those responsible (and give them) the punishment they deserve, if that’s how it is,” said Bachelet in Pumanque, one of the communities hardest hit by the fire in the O’Higgins region south of Santiago.
The president, who also decided on Tuesday to extend the emergency declaration to the entire central Maule region, told reporters that “the basic task is that we still have some active fire foci and others that, if they reactivate, could reach populated areas. That is the main effort today.”
Bachelet also announced that she will ask the Finance Ministry to assemble additional resources to provide post-emergency aid to the affected families, with the number in Pumanque standing at more than 100.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), Aaron Cavieres, announced that the arrival in Chile of a Boeing 747-400 Supertanker had been authorized to help combat the fires.
The largest plane in the world for fighting forest fires was offered to the nation free by Chilean Lucy Ana Aviles, who lives in Colorado, and it can dump up to 73,000 liters (about 19,300 gallons) at a time.
According to the report issued on Tuesday by Conaf, 89 forest fires have been reported nationwide, of which 36 are being battled, another 50 are under control and three have been extinguished, affecting a total of 155,030 hectares.
During the current fire season, which began on July 1, fires have consumed 248,627 hectares, almost 24 times as much territory as last year, when just 10,054 hectares were burned during the same period.
A total of 2,852 fires have been reported so far this year, 14 percent more than the 2,510 fires registered during the same period in 2015-2016.