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Chile’s wildfires destroy town, death toll rises to nine

The flames engulfed the post office, a kindergarten, and about 1,000 homes on Thursday.

world Updated: Jan 27, 2017 00:37 IST
AP, Santiago
Chile wildfire,Chile,Forest fire
A forest fire burns out of control in Santa Olga.(AFP photo)

Flames from one of Chile’s worst wildfires completely consumed the town of Santa Olga as the death toll from the blazes since November rose to nine, officials said Thursday.

The flames engulfed the post office, a kindergarten, and about 1,000 homes on Thursday in the town 360 km south of the Chilean capital.

The body of one person was found under the charred remains of the town, which another 6,000 residents fled unharmed. Officials have not identified the person.

“This is an extremely serious situation — of horror, a nightmare without an end,” said Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of the neighboring coastal city of Constitucion. “Everything burned.”

Watch: Chile declares state of emergency as wildfires engulf large parts

Authorities found another body burned inside a house destroyed in the flames about 140 km south of Santa Olga in the coastal city of Concepcion, said Andrea Munoz, the governor of Concepcion province.

Remains of homes destroyed by fire in Santa Olga, Chile on Thursday. (AP photo)

The fast-spreading blazes of recent weeks have destroyed about 385,000 acres of forest and killed nine people. They include a firefighter and two police officers who died on Wednesday.

The fires have been raging in central and southern Chile, fanned by strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought.

Emergency services have battled the flames non-stop for days with firefighters on the ground and helicopters and small airplanes in the air. But the ferocity of the flames prompted President Michelle Bachelet to ask for international help.

A Boeing 747-400 Super Tanker arrived in Chile from the United States on Wednesday to help fight the blazes. The world’s largest fire-fighting aircraft can dump nearly 20,000 gallons (73,000 liters) of fire retardant or water. A delegation of Colombian experts was to assist Chilean firefighters on Thursday.

People react while standing next to burnt houses as the worst wildfires in Chile's modern history ravage wide swaths of the country's central-south regions, in Santa Olga, Chile. (Reuters photo)

The central regions of O’Higgins and Chile’s top wine-making region of Maule are among those hit worst. But fires are also raging in the south-central Bio Bio and Araucania regions, known for its timber industry and where most of Chile’s Mapuche Indigenous people live.

Interior minister Mahmud Aleuy said more fires were expected with forecasts of hotter temperatures, strong winds and low humidity in the coming days.

First Published: Jan 27, 2017 00:36 IST