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Chile wildfires kill at least 23 people as 40C heat hampers effort to stop spread

Record summer temperatures of more than 40C (104F) are hampering efforts to tackle dozens of wildfires across central Chile that have killed at least 23 people, destroyed 800 homes and prompted the declaration of a state of emergency in three regions.

Sixty-six people have been hurt in the fires, while almost 1,500 others are seeking refuge in shelters, according to an update on Sunday from the national forestry agency, Conaf. The state body said 87 fires were being still fought and 148 had been brought under control.

A state of emergency has now been declared in three sparsely populated central regions – Araucanía, Biobío and Ñuble – which are home to many grape, apple and berry farms as well as large tracts of forest land. By Friday, 40,000 hectares had been burned by the fires, according to official data.

Chile’s interior minister, Carolina Tohá, said 76 new fires had broken out on Friday alone, adding that the record temperatures were making it very difficult to stop the blazes spreading.

“The thermometer has reached points that we have never known until now,” Tohá said on Saturday.

She also suggested the fires should serve as yet another wake-up call about the effects of the climate emergency.

“The evolution of climate change shows us again and again that this has a centrality and a capacity to cause an impact that we have to internalise much more,” the minister said.

“Chile is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change, and this isn’t theory but rather practical experience.”

The emergency orders allow for the deployment of soldiers and additional resources to deal with the natural disaster.

Officials said Spain, the US, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela had offered help, including planes and firefighters.

Neighbouring Argentina is sending 64 firefighters, a forest fire pump truck and a Chinook helicopter, while Spain has dispatched a plane carrying 50 members of the country’s military emergencies unit to help.

Although aid is on the way, those who have been caught up in the wildfires have had no choice but to flee.

“I left with what I had on,” Carolina Torres, who fled from an approaching fire near the city of Purén in Araucanía, told Reuters.

“I think everyone here did the same thing because the winds shifted and you just had to grab everything right away.”

On Friday, the president, Gabriel Boric, cut short his summer holiday and travelled to Biobío and Ñuble, pledging to make sure the affected areas received all necessary support.

Boric also pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been started intentionally, but did not provide any additional details.

source: the guardian