At least ten people have died in blazes since November in what is being described as the worst wildfire in Chile, AP reported on Thursday. Around 98,482 acres (40,000 hectares) of forestry land has been in the fires, affecting companies that deal in wood, paper and pulp – Chile’s second-largest export industry after copper.
A massive firefighting operation involving assistance from Mexico, Colombia, France, Russia and the United States is underway, Reuters reported. On January 20, President Michelle Bachelet had declared a state of emergency in the country and called for international help, while describing the blaze as “the greatest forest disaster”in Chile’s history.
“It is still not possible to determine the economic damage caused by these fires, as they have destroyed woods in different stages of growth and forestry management, and there has also been loss of infrastructure and installations,” industry group CORMA said. The region’s famed vineyards have also been gutted in the fire.
Officials said the entire town of Santa Olga, which had more than 1,000 buildings, was razed to the ground, The Guardian reported. The United States deployed a Boeing 747-400 Super Tanker with a carrying capacity of 73,000 liters to help douse the flames, while Russia had sent an Ilyushin Il-76.
The region’s arid weather makes the country prone to wildfires. O’Higgins and Maule in Chile were affected the worst, while areas inhabited by indigenous people in Bio Bio and Araucania were also ravaged, according to AP. Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said experts have predicted more fires because of strong winds and rise in temperatures.