Emergency extended as firefighters battle wildfires in Chile

A resident tries to put out a fire in Santa Juan near Concepcion in Chile. STORY: Firefighters battle dozens of wildfires in Chile as emergency extended

A resident tries to put out the fire during a wildfire in Santa Juana, near Concepcion, Chile, Feb. 3, 2023. (Photo by JUAN GONZALEZ / Reuters)

SANTIAGO — Dozens of wildfires blazing through Chile caused the government to extend an emergency order to another region on Saturday, as a scorching summer heatwave complicates efforts to control fires that have claimed at least 13 lives so far.

The emergency order declared by the interior ministry now covers the region of La Araucania, just south of the previously declared regions of Biobio and neighboring Nuble, located near the center of the South American country’s long Pacific coastline. The three regions are home to many farms and forest land.

On Friday, an emergency-support helicopter in La Araucania crashed, killing its pilot and a mechanic, according to officials.

Authorities reported that 11 casualties, including a firefighter, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located some 310 miles (500 km) south of the capital Santiago.

Since late last week, helicopters have dropped fire retardant over raging fires amid billowing clouds of smoke that obstructed roads, while firefighters and local residents alike sought to contain the flames against the backdrop of a hazy, orange-tinted sky.

The orders allow for the deployment of soldiers and additional resources to deal with the natural disaster.

Some 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) have been torched by the fires, according to official data released late Friday, an area larger than the US city of Philadelphia.

National forestry agency CONAF reported on Saturday that 80 of 231 total wildfires are being actively battled, while 151 of them are under control.

About a couple dozen fires have been designated at the red alert level.


Thirteen dead as fires blaze through south-central Chile