More than 100 fast-spreading wildfires rage in Chile

A firefighter digs a trench in an effort to stop the advancement of a wildfire in the Florida community of Concepcion, Chile. Photo / AP
A firefighter digs a trench in an effort to stop the advancement of a wildfire in the Florida community of Concepcion, Chile. Photo / AP

Flames from more than 100 raging wildfires in Chile continued spreading from the mountains to the Pacific coast, destroying forests, livestock and entire towns in a destructive path that is now dangerously close to the city of Concepcion.

Authorities said they found a body yesterday, raising the overall death toll to 11. About 118 fires remain active and 53 of those are contained.

Constanza Vega searches the charred remains of her home for coins she had saved up, after a fire in Santa Olga, Chile. Photo / AP
Constanza Vega searches the charred remains of her home for coins she had saved up, after a fire in Santa Olga, Chile. Photo / AP

Officials were hopeful that light rains and lower temperatures would provide some relief. But the flames picked up near two residential condominiums in the city of Concepcion, about 500 kilometres from the capital of Santiago. Residents of one of the condominiums, which is located behind a hill of pines, used garden hoses to wet the streets until firefighters arrived and contained the flames.

President Michelle Bachelet has called the wildfires the worst forest disaster in Chile's history.

The forestry agency, CONAF, said the blazes have destroyed nearly 360,000 hectares since November. Most of it has been consumed over the past two weeks.

The fires have affected an estimated 3000 people, although the number could rise since many towns in remote forests have yet to receive aid. Thousands of people have been evacuated. Some have returned to their homes because they fear losing their homes, pastures and livestock.

The carcasses of charred horses, lambs and chickens have been buried in pits to avoid the spread of infectious diseases. TV images show town dwellers outside their wooden homes armed with buckets of water, hoping it will be enough to battle the flames. But those efforts are often undone as winds or smoldering ash spread the fires anew.

Juan Vega embraces his daughter where their home once stood after a wildfire wiped out the town of Santa Olga. Photo / AP
Juan Vega embraces his daughter where their home once stood after a wildfire wiped out the town of Santa Olga. Photo / AP

More than 4000 firefighters have battled the fires, but the ferocity of the fires led Bachelet to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and ask for international help.

A Boeing 747-400 "Super Tanker" from the United States that can dump nearly 73,000 litres of fire retardant or water, and a similar supertanker plane from the Russian government are assisting local emergency crews. Firefighters from Colombia, Mexico and experts from France and other nations have also been arriving to Chile to fight the blazes.

Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said that Austria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan and Sweden, also pledged their aid.

"It shows that whole world is uniting to help Chile," he said.

- AP

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