CONCEPCIÓN, CHILE (AFP) – Forecasts of persistent high temperatures and strong winds bode ill on Wednesday for drought-stricken Chile as dozens of forest fires – several of them deadly – showed no signs of abating.
More than 5,600 local firefighters, with back-up from personnel flown in from Mexico, Colombia and Spain, were actively battling 89 priority fires out of a total of 311 burning a week into the disaster, officials said.
“We are entering the most complex part of the week,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha said on Wednesday.
“We have an alert for high temperatures for today, tomorrow and the next day in several regions of the country, requiring the mobilisation of a very large effort… to prevent the fires from spreading,” she told reporters.
Fires have razed more than 763,000 acres in the Maule, Nuble, Biobio and La Araucania regions, officials said – an area equivalent to one third of Puerto Rico. The official death toll was adjusted downward on Wednesday by two to 24, with the number of people injured by the fires reaching 2,180.
A total of 1,180 homes have been destroyed, leaving more than 5,500 people homeless. “If the temperature rises and the wind increases, we may indeed have more problems, and we already have many fires,” head of a Spanish military contingent providing help in Chile Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Javier Martin Traverso told AFP.
He expressed concern about the so-called “triple 30” factor – humidity under 30 per cent, temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and winds above 30 kilometres per hour – which, if present, could make for a fire of “great magnitude, virulence and potency”. Chile is in the grips of a 13-year drought.