Chile and neighbouring Argentina have declared ‘states of catastrophe’ due to worst forest fires in decades.
Over 175,000 square miles of raging inferno in the area south of Santiago in Chile and more than one million hectares across several locations in Argentina have been ravaged. And high winds are currently blowing!
Fire fighters are battling the worst forest fires for over 10 years in central Chile as President Michelle Bachelet declares the state of “catastrophe”.
Over 175,000 square miles were the site of a raging inferno in the area south of Santiago, the country’s capital city. More than 200 people were evacuated as hundreds of firefighters, military and forestry workers were brought into the region to battle the blaze.
Josephina Lopez, from to the country’s National Emergency Office (ONEMI), said no fatalities have been reported yet but huge economic losses were expected.
The disaster was called “a sort of earthquake” for the area, agriculture minister Carlos Furche said on Chile’s national radio, with a farming emergency declared. Crops and vineyards have been destroyed.
President Bachelet was seeking help from other countries, including its neighbour Argentina, while France had already offered assistance. “I’ve instructed the Interior Ministry to declare a catastrophe zone and a state of emergency in the areas affected by the fires,” President Bachelet said on Twitter.
By calling a state of catastrophe, military personnel can be deployed to assist in dousing the wildfires.
Helicopters and planes were needed to drop fire retardant onto the forest areas, as high winds and a heat wave fuel the flames. Thick smoke from the intense fires is causing a thick haze over acres of land.
Television news footage showed helicopters and planes attempting to put out the fires, but apparently to little effect.
Authorities are attempting to discover the cause of the blaze although the forests have been extremely dry after several weeks without rain. January is the hottest month of the Chilean summer.
The head of Chile’s CONAF forestry service, Aaron Cavieres, said the, fires were caused by people, but whether they were set on purpose could not yet be determined. In 2014, a fire in Valparaiso killed 15 people and destroyed over 2,000 homes.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Argentina, a state of disaster and an agricultural emergency were declared in the province of La Pampa, on Sunday.
Wildfires have ravaged more than one million hectares across several locations, according to local authorities.
The argentinian wildfire started during a dry storm, which saw around 500 lightning strikes in a predominately dry grass area.