By Jeanette Tan, International News Writer
A series of wildfires have engulfed large areas of southern and central Chile since January 15, killing at least 11 people including several firefighters. The blazes have destroyed almost 600,000 acres of forestland, which is about three times the size of New York City. More than 2,700 people have lost their homes, while thousands more have had to evacuate.
According to Chile’s National Forestry Corporation, there were as many as 130 separate fires at the peak of the disaster. Almost 4,000 people, including firefighters and troops, and 46 aircraft have been deployed to combat the blazes.
Authorities have called this widespread fire the worst forest disaster in the history of Chile.
“We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” said President Michelle Bachelet. She added, “The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires.”
On the central coast, the town of Santa Olga was essentially burned to the ground with more than 1,000 building engulfed by flames. In an interview with The Guardian, the mayor of the nearby city of Constitución Carlos Valenzuela said, “This is a real hell. We are absolutely overtaken.”
President Bachelet declared a state of emergency on January 20 and appealed for international aid from countries with experience in dealing with wildfires. France, Peru, Russia and the United States are among some of the countries so far who have sent help to aid Chile in combatting the wildfires.
The US embassy in Chile has said that the total contribution from the US government will top $840,000, after the latest contribution of $740,000 announced on January 31. Some of these funds are used to aid the humanitarian needs of communities affected by the wildfires and to purchase personal protective equipment for those battling the fires. Personal hygiene kits have also been distributed to residents of Santa Olga.
While the Chilean government is still investigating potential causes of the blazes, some experts have attributed the wildfires to a combination strong winds, high summer temperatures and low relative humidity.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 7th print edition.
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