21 Jan 2017

Massive wildfires burn in Chile

4:01 pm on 21 January 2017

Chile has declared a state of emergency as wildfires that have scorched nearly 50,000ha begin to threaten towns, factories and vineyards.

Santiago de Chile

Santiago de Chile. Photo: 123rf

Firefighters, forestry service personnel and members of the military have been battling 18 separate blazes in the center and south of the country that have been fuelled by strong winds and a heat wave.

The largest consumed 24,000ha in and around Pumanque, a rural area some 140km south of the capital Santiago that is near some of Chile's vineyards.

"I've instructed the Interior Ministry to declare a catastrophe zone and a state of emergency in the areas affected by the fires," President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter.

The smoke from the blazes cloaked Santiago in a thick haze. Television news images showed helicopters and planes trying to douse the out-of-control fires, apparently to little avail.

The head of Chile's CONAF forestry service, Aaron Cavieres, said the fires were caused by humans, but that it could not be determined whether they were set intentionally.

CONAF said it would close access to all national parks between the northern Coquimbo and south-central Biobio regions until Sunday. While several fires are in the vicinity of some of Chile's national parks, none have been directly affected.

- Reuters