Firefighters battle dozens of wildfires in Chile, death toll at 22

A burning house at dawn during a wild fire near the city of Santa Juana, Chile, on Feb 4, 2023. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SANTIAGO - Dozens of wildfires blazing though 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 22 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 neighbouring Nuble, located near the centre 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 of the victims, or half of the casualties reported so far, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located some 500km 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 have been torched by the fires, according to official data released late on 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. REUTERS

Firefighters and local residents alike have sought to contain the flames against the backdrop of a hazy, orange-tinted sky. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.