SANTIAGO – Firefighting crews, supported by planes and helicopters, continued working Wednesday to control a wildfire that has burned 3,500 hectares (8,640 acres) of forest and vegetation, damaging 40 houses in the central Chilean region of Maule, officials said.
The fire in the Parral area, located about 340 kilometers (211 miles) south of Santiago, forced the evacuation of roughly 3,200 people, of whom 580 lived in houses threatened by flames and 2,600 others were moved as a precaution.
The fire has also affected Ñiquen, a town in neighboring Bio Bio region, and is moving north amid temperatures that rose above 35 C (95 F) in areas of central Chile.
The fire began in Zemita, a town in Bio Bio, “and crossed the Perquelauquen River, threatening the areas of San Alberto and Catillo,” national emergency management office director Ricardo Toro told the press.
A shift in the wind saved Catillo from the flames and residents evacuated from the town remain in two shelters in the city of Parral.
The national emergency management office described the situation as an ongoing emergency, preventing residents from returning to Catillo, although weather conditions improved on Wednesday and the flames advanced at less than 1.2 kph (0.70 mph).
National Forestry Service (CONAF) director Aaron Caviedes said firefighting crews have 15 aircraft, including nine helicopters and a Russian-made IL-76 tanker plane, supporting them.
Gen. Javier Iturriaga, in charge of the disaster zone in Maule region, told Radio Cooperativa that “as long as the airplanes can fly, there’s hope of controlling the fire.”