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  • Trees on fire are seen near a house in the town of Hualane, on the outskirts of the Curico city, south Chile, January 21, 2017.

    Trees on fire are seen near a house in the town of Hualane, on the outskirts of the Curico city, south Chile, January 21, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 February 2018

The worst wildfires in Chile’s modern history are ravaging wide swaths of the country’s central-south regions.

About 1,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed in the past 24 hours in Chile's central region of Valparaiso, while authorities have declared the red alert in five areas on Sunday.

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CONAF forestry service are still struggling to control the fires with five helicopters and one plane, according to the National Emergency Office, or Onemi, with two fires remaining active in Quilpue.

“Since yesterday, about 900 hectares have been destroyed,” said Conaf's regional chief in an interview with local media, adding that homes have not been affected so far.

The fires have been fed by a prolonged drought and temperatures that have topped 40 degrees Celsius.

Forest fires are a regular feature of Chile’s hot, arid summers, but a nearly decade-long drought combined with historically high temperatures have created tinder-dry conditions.

International help from Spain, Peru, and Mexico, among others, has been pouring into Chile as the fires swept through forested hills and into neighboring towns, scorching homes, industry and the region’s world-renowned vineyards. The country last week declared a state of emergency.

At least some of the fires may have been started intentionally and there had been at least 43 arrests in relation to ongoing investigations.

Chile’s forest products industry, the country’s second biggest by exports after copper mining, is led by Empresas Copec subsidiary Arauco, Empresas CMPC, and Masisa.


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