SANTIAGO – The death toll and the amount of damage caused by the forest fires ravaging several regions of Chile have increased in recent hours with the finding of two more bodies and the destruction of more than 1,000 homes, authorities said Thursday.
In the southern regions of Maule and Biobio the bodies of two men were found amid the charred ruins, raising the number of fatalities to nine since the blazes began.
In Santa Olga, a town adjacent to the city of Constitucion, which was completely consumed by the flames, the body of an as yet unidentified man was found.
Police are investigating whether the man was a local resident or one of the volunteers helping to fight the fire, the commander of the Constitucion firefighters, Alexis Cristostomo, told local media.
The flames destroyed more than 1,000 homes in Santa Olga, as well as the police and fire stations, schools, a medical clinic and industrial facilities, Constitucion Mayor Carlos Valenzuela said.
Some 5,000 residents of the town were evacuated before the blaze arrived.
In Biobio, 500 kilometers (360 miles) from Santiago, Concepcion provincial Gov. Andrea Muñoz confirmed the finding of another man’s body in the Lloicura sector, where the fire is moving through several inhabited zones.
On Wednesday, the fire killed a firefighter and two members of the Carabineros, Chile’s militarized police, while they were working to evacuate Maule residents.
Earlier, three employees of the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) died in the same region, along with a farmer who crashed his motorcycle into a tree in the La Araucania region.
In addition, the fate of two elderly people who went missing near the Maule River is unknown.
In Biobio, as well as in Tome, attention is focusing on the city of Penco, which has 50,000 residents and which since late Wednesday has been completely surrounded by the fire, and flames are also threatening homes in a number of other communities there.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Thursday ordered her ministers to accelerate the provision of aid to the people affected by the disaster.
She said that the government since the beginning of the crisis had made every effort to deal with the emergency, the worst of its kind in Chile.
So far about 15 people have been charged with causing assorted fires in different spots.
Bachelet confirmed that France, Peru, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia had sent firefighters to help combat the blazes, adding that she was ready to continue using the SuperTanker aircraft – the world’s largest such plane – which on Wednesday arrived in Chile and began work to help extinguish the fires in Maule.
She also said that an offer from Russia to sent IL-76 tanker aircraft to help battle the fires had been accepted.
Forty-six aircraft and about 4,000 firefighters and other personnel have been deployed to fight the fires.
Conaf said Thursday that 103 fires had been reported, of which 53 are still being fought, 48 are under control and two have been extinguished. A total of some 273,500 hectares (684,000 acres) have been destroyed.