SANTIAGO – More than 200 settlers had to be evacuated over the past few hours from Portezuelo municipality in the southern Chilean province of Ñuble, as uncontrolled fires came closer to engulfing populated areas, local authorities announced Monday.
Flames are closing in on the Quitento, Los Maquis and Porvenir districts, where homes are at risk of burning to the ground as flames whipped along by 50-kph (30-mph) winds have overwhelmed the capacity of local inhabitants and firefighters to contain them.
“The armed forces have issued an evacuation order because the situation is becoming unmanageable. The government’s priority is to save human lives, and that is what we are doing,” Ñuble provincial Gov. Alvaro Miguieles said on Cooperativa radio.
The governor spoke particularly about the work on the ground of a contingent of 85 Venezuelan firefighters who were deployed some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Santiago to combat some of the wildfires still blazing in seven regions of Chile.
“Today we have to go all over that sector, which has some difficult geographic features...we have to get in there to see if houses are really burning down,” Portezuelo Mayor Rene Schuffeneger said later on T13 Radio.
Meanwhile, nine firefighters arriving in the area from the northern Chilean region of Tarapaca were injured near Portezuelo as their vehicle overturned as they were on their way to fight the fires.
The Onemi emergency management office, citing figures provided by the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), said this Monday that 124 fires are burning nationwide, of which 58 are being dealt with, another 55 are under control and 11 are considered extinguished. An estimated 367,000 hectares (906,000 acres) have been scorched.
Fighting a number of blazes since the weekend have been 112 Argentine firefighters in the Santiago metropolitan region, 65 French firefighters in the O’Higgins region, 51 Portuguese and 60 Peruvians in Maule, while fighting the flames in Biobio are 35 Colombian and 59 Spanish firefighters, along with the Venezuelans.
Working in Araucania, meanwhile, are 58 firefighters from Mexico.
A State of Disaster is being maintained in Valparaiso, in the provinces of Colchagua and Cardenal Caro in the O’Higgins region, and in the entire territory of the Maule, Biobio and Araucania regions.