SANTIAGO – The Chilean government on Sunday held a ceremony to recognize firefighters from the European Union who have collaborated in fighting the devastating wildfires that have beset several regions of the country in recent weeks.
“Thanks for the delivery (of your help). The spirit demonstrates gives us a boost,” said Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz at the ceremony, where 180 firefighters from Spain, France and Portugal were bade farewell after ending their work.
The firemen from the EU nations will begin returning to their countries within the coming hours.
“This is a necessary brotherhood in times where there are signs of protectionism and walls are being raised. You raised your hands and opened them to brotherhood,” the Chilean minister said.
He also emphasized that more than 600 experts and firefighters arrived in Chile to fight the forest fires, adding that this was “a contribution unprecedented in our history. We’re going to hold, by way of our embassies, ceremonies similar to this one” in Europe, he added.
Also providing help in the fight against the fires were firefighters from Panama, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Venezuela and Japan, among other nations.
“This help will forge much closer relations with you and the other countries who participated,” said the Chilean foreign minister, who also thanked the United Nations and the Red Cross for their aid.
The head of the Spanish contingent of firefighters, Commander Vicente Franco, thanked Chile for the tribute and said that receiving the appreciation of the Chilean people had been a “priceless” emotional experience.
“We came as friends, we leave as brothers,” Franco emphasized.
Nations such as Germany, China and South Korea also contributed economic help.
In recent weeks, parts of central and southern Chile have been devastated by an unprecedented wave of forest fires that killed 11 people, left more than 7,000 with property damage and destroyed more than 1,600 homes.
Since July 1, according to government figures, 3,393 forest fires have been registered, which have destroyed some 597,000 hectares (about 1.5 million acres).
Currently, authorities say, 44 fires are still burning, with 41 having been brought under control, although three still being battled.