At least 13 dead as Chile battles dozens of raging wildfires

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Dozens of raging wildfires in Chile claimed at least 13 lives and torched some 14,000 hectares, authorities reported on Friday, as a summer heatwave sweeps across the southern hemisphere country.

Eleven people, including a firefighter, had died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, a region some 500 kilometres south of capital Santiago, local authorities said.

The minister of agriculture also reported an emergency-support helicopter in the southern region of La Araucania had crashed, killing the pilot and a mechanic.

States of catastrophe have been declared in the farming and forest areas of Biobio and neighbouring Nuble, prompting the deployment of soldiers and additional resources.

More danger ahead

Hundreds of homes have been damaged while 39 fires rage across the country, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said.

“The conditions in the coming days are going to be risky,” Toha told journalists.

She said ground equipment and a fleet of 63 available planes were reinforcing the fire fight, with help from Brazil and Argentina expected.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric on Friday cut his summer vacation short and travelled to Nuble and Biobio, which together have a population of nearly 2 million people.

“My role as president today is to ensure that all resources will be available for the emergency and so that people feel that they are not going to be alone,” Boric said from Biobio.

He also pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been started intentionally.

Some families sought refuge in shelters, according to Chilean disaster agency Senapred. Fires disrupted traffic on highways, and numerous settlements have been evacuated.

Weather forecasts on Friday predicted temperatures over 38 C in Nuble’s capital, Chillan, with strong winds that risked worsening fire conditions.

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