Chile farmers fight forest fire 'catastrophe'
LITUECHE, Chile – Chile's president ordered extra funds Tuesday, January 24, to be spent on fighting the country's worst forest fires ever, as frantic locals called for help to save their homes, animals and farmland.
Flames have destroyed 155,000 hectares (600 square miles) of land in the center of the country and at least 4,000 people have been evacuated, the National Emergency Office said.
"This is worse than an earthquake," said Juan Carlos Donoso, a middle-aged man who lives in a rural area near the town of Litueche.
"We are very scared because we are farmers – we have animals, fields and houses that have been burned."
He and other local people were using spades and machinery to help firefighters clear the ground to stop the fire from spreading.
Nearby, farm animals that had survived the blaze wandered around looking for unspoiled pasture.
"This is the biggest catastrophe we have ever seen," said Paulo Morales, 29.
"We need more help from the government. They must send helicopters because that is the only way to put the fires out."
More help promised
President Michelle Bachelet visited the disaster zone Tuesday and said she had ordered the Treasury "to seek additional resources to fight the fire and deal with what comes afterward, since many families have lost everything."
Some 4,000 emergency workers are fighting the fires, with about 36 separate blazes still active on Tuesday, a week after the first ones broke out, the emergency office said.
Bachelet said specialists had arrived from France to help fight the blazes, which have prompted the government to declare a state of catastrophe.
The fires have struck mainly in sparsely populated rural areas in the central regions of O'Higgins and El Maule.
The United States offered $100,000 for the firefighting effort and Mexico has sent personnel.
Bachelet said members of the Walton family, owners of US retail giant Walmart, were paying for a Boeing 747 to join in fighting the flames.
Bachelet on Monday, January 23, called it "the biggest forestry disaster in our history."
Three firefighters have died and another three have been wounded battling the flames.
Bachelet scrapped a trip to the Dominican Republic for a summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders on Wednesday, January 25, in order to oversee the firefighting effort.
Fires are common in Chile's parched woods during the Southern Hemisphere's summer. Most are caused by human activity.
But this year was considered worse because of a drought that has built up over the past eight years, attributed by environmentalists to climate change. – Rappler.com