Wildfires rage in southern Chile


The Chilean government declared a state of catastrophe Tuesday in three southern regions due to wildfires that have killed two people and destroyed 10,000 hectares (24,710 acres) of cropland, trees and vegetation.

The declaration applies to the regions of Biobio, Araucania and Los Rios where more than 630 individual fires have destroyed 25 homes and affected 119 people, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The catastrophe declaration opens the door to the direct participation of the military to assure public order as necessary in support of the effort to combat and prevent fires.

The military command in each of the three regions will be responsible for coordinating all public agencies and services and for strengthening logistical support for the battle against the blazes.

Authorities have “more than doubled” the resources available to the forest service as well as the number of airplanes, helicopters and firefighters on the ground, according to the ministry statement.

The acting interior minister, Rodrigo Ubilla, said that the military and the other agencies involved in the effort will have access to everything they need to cope with the emergency and to protect citizens in affected areas.

The government has prepared “for a difficult season when it comes to fires, with high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity,” Ubilla said.

In a separate statement, the army said that “responding to the requirements of the respective regional emergency committees, the military put at their disposal more than 700 personnel, cargo vehicles, aircraft and other means that are employed in the affected areas.”

Chile resorted to a catastrophe declaration amid outbreaks of looting in the city of Concepcion following the magnitude-8.8. earthquake of Feb. 27, 2010, which was felt across 80 percent of the national territory and was blamed for nearly 800 deaths.

The government also declared Coquimbo, in northern Chile, as a disaster area after a magnitude-8.4 earthquake and ensuing tsunami in September 2015 that killed 13 people.

In early 2017, a state of catastrophe was declared in the coastal region of Valparaiso due to massive wildfires that destroyed hundreds of homes in the port city that is the seat of the Chilean Congress and center of the country’s third-most-populous metropolitan area.