Chile declares state of emergency due to massive wildfires

By REUTERS
January 22, 2017 06:35
1 minute read.

 
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Chile is under a state of emergency as more than a dozen wildfires that have scorched, as of Saturday (January 21), nearly 80,000 hectares (123,500 acres) threatened to encroach on towns, factories and vineyards.

Firefighters, forestry service personnel and members of the military are battling at least 18 separate blazes in the center and south of the country that have been fueled by strong winds and a heat wave. Some 40 homes have been destroyed according to the National Emergency Office (ONEMI). And reports say there a total of around 50 fires including those not in control.

One of the largest has consumed 24,000 hectares in and around Pumanque, a rural area some 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the capital Santiago that is near some of Chile's vineyards.

"I've instructed the Interior Ministry to declare a catastrophe zone and a state of emergency in the areas affected by the fires," President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter.

The smoke from the blazes cloaked Santiago in a thick haze. Television news images showed helicopters and planes trying to douse the out-of-control fires, apparently to little avail.

The head of Chile's CONAF forestry service, Aaron Cavieres, said the fires were caused by humans, but that it could not be determined whether they were set intentionally.

CONAF said it would close access to all national parks between the northern Coquimbo and south-central Biobio regions until Sunday. While several fires are in the vicinity of some of Chile's national parks, none have been directly affected.

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