One Dead in New Fire in Southern Chile

One Dead in New Fire in Southern Chile

02 January 2012

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Chile — One death, around 30 homes destroyed and some 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) burned is the tally so far from a forest fire in the southern region of Bio Bio, Chilean authorities reported Monday.

This fire is in addition to the one that since last week has burned more than 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of native forest and brush country in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, some 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) south of Santiago.

The heavy winds and high temperatures in recent hours have caused the fire to spread in Bio Bio after it was sparked last Friday night near the town of Quillon, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) from Santiago.

“The situation has become especially complex,” Vicente Nuñez, the director of the National Emergency Office, or Onemi, told reporters, after confirming that the flames were threatening populated areas.

“Between 500 and 600 people have had to be evacuated and some 30 homes have been burned in the Queime sector, 8 kilometers (5 miles) from Quillon,” said Nuñez, who confirmed that one body had been found in the one of the destroyed houses.

The fire victim was identified as Juan Ernesto Campos Bello, 75, who evidently did not leave his home with the necessary speed when the flames were approaching.

The Onemi chief said that the situation is “of great concern,” given that the fire has partially cut off traffic on two highways in the region.

About 350 forest service personnel, firefighters, soldiers and private company employees, supported by six airplanes and 10 helicopters, are working in the area to control the blaze, authorities said, adding that another 135 specialists will be added to the effort to battle the fire on Monday.

The situation in Bio Bio became even more complicated on Sunday morning, when another fire completely destroyed a wood panel manufacturing plant owned by the firm Celulosa Arauco.

The flames broke out about 5 a.m. on some hills near the plant and spread rapidly to the facility due to the heavy winds.

In the Magallanes region, meanwhile, a tapering off of the wind allowed authorities on Sunday to bring three of the six fires in Torres del Paine under control.

In addition, authorities were able to save a couple of dozen deer and other animal species in the area.

“We hope to have the six (fire) foci under control in the coming hours or days,” Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter told the press.

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