SANTIAGO – More than 18,000 people are working to extinguish the 131 forest fires still blazing in seven regions of central and southern Chile, according to the latest report of the Onemi emergency management office and the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf).
The report specifies that 18,308 people are engaged in fighting and controlling the fires or lending support and assistance to those dousing the flames, including 1,170 Chilean forest rangers, 628 foreign firefighters and experts, 8,338 members of the armed forces, 4,000 Chilean firefighters, 1,360 Carabinero militarized police and 415 police detectives.
To that are added 2,397 civil servants of ministries and public services, while air support is provided by 52 aircraft between airplanes and helicopters.
Conaf says there are 131 fires around the country, of which 51 are being dealt with, 68 are under control and 12 have been extinguished. In all they have laid waste to 586,073 hectares (1.45 million acres).
President Michelle Bachelet, after holding a videoconference with authorities on the ground in the wildfire areas, said “the emergency situation continues, so it’s important not to lower our guard.”
She added that for now there are no populated areas that are threatened by the flames and expressed her conviction that “this state of emergency will soon be over.”
She did say, however, that “we know that every summer, even up to April, the usual fires will break out. That’s why firefighters are deployed immediately to deal with each new blaze, but in a more routine way.”
The current wave of wildfires has been categorized as the worst in Chilean history and in essence different from the usual summer blazes, with winds of 50 to 60 kph (30 to 37 mph) that constantly change direction – that plus temperatures higher than 35 C (95 F) originated, according to the experts, real firestorms over vast regions of woodland and scrub and some populated areas.
Chile’s Meteorological Office said that for this weekend, slight rain is forecast for the southern region of BioBio, one of the areas hardest hit by the flames and which is currently on red alert.
Up to now, the fires have left a total of 11 people dead, 6,162 affected, 1,551 homes destroyed and 519 people in temporary shelters.