Wildfires rage through Chile

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Wildfires rage through Chile

Chile is currently battling what are considered to be the worst wildfires in its history, which have left at least seven dead and thousands of homes destroyed. 

A state of emergency has been declared south of the capital Santiago.

As well as the loss of human life and the razing of buildings, the blazes have also destroyed herds of cattle, killed native fauna, wiped out numerous wine grape vineyards and have put some native trees such as Rauli at risk of extinction. 

Local media report more than 273,000 hectares of land have been affected, mainly across the central regions of O'Higgins and El Maule.

Firefighters have been able to control the majority of the blazes, but the National Forest Corporation (CONAF) reports there are still around 35 fires out of control.

The numerous fires have spread quickly in the dry and particularly hot summer in the South American country. Chile has also been experiencing what is known as the 30-30-30 conditions - temperatures higher than 30ºC, winds faster than 30 knots, and humidity below 30% - which are said to be ideal for wildfires.

There has also been fierce debate amongst the Chilean public and within government around whether the fires may have been provoked, and who would commit such acts.

When visiting the community of Empedrado in Maule, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has said she understands "there is pain and rage".

“We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile. The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires,” she said.

International assistance has been requested to aid the extensive efforts to extinguish the fires, with help so far having come from numerous countries including France, Peru, Mexico and the U.S.

On Wednesday a Boeing 747-400 'Super Tanker' arrived to Chile from a U.S. Air Force base in Colorado on a fire-fighting operation funded to the tune of about US$2 million by a wealthy Chilean resident in the U.S.

With the capacity to carry 73,000 litres of water, local media say a single run by the huge jet is equivalent to that of 72 helicopter and 20 light aircraft missions.

The Russian Government has also offered the support of its own supertanker, the Ilyushin IL-76.

While local media have reported dozen of wine grape vineyards have been affected, it is at present unclear what the effect is on the fresh fruit industry. Grower associations Fedefruta and Asoex have not been available for comment on recent developments.

According Diario La Nacion, a blueberry packing plant was destroyed in Bulnes, Biobio.

Last week, Ramón Achurra of Frusexta, an association that represents growers and exporters from the O’Higgins region, told Fresh Fruit Portal he believed the fruit industry had been spared as most of the blazes were up in the hills.

On Thursday the National Emergency Office (ONEMI) issued a red alert for the area of Melipilla, which lies between the major port of San Antonio and Santiago.

Photo: @SiraMoran, via Twitter



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