Chile’s National Forestry Corporation : ‘Catastrophe’ declared as wildfires rage in central Chile

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Chile’s National Forestry Corporation authorities declared a state of catastrophe in central Chile as crews Saturday fought vast forest wildfires described as the worst in decades.

More than 450 square kilometers (175 square miles) were ablaze in the O’Higgins region — an area roughly the size of Vienna or Tel Aviv.

As fire and emergency crews were brought in, officials evacuated 200 people from the mostly rural area south of the capital Santiago. Some 30 homes were affected in Cardenal Caro and Colchagua provinces, the National Emergency Office (ONEMI) said.

A local ONEMI official, Josefina Lopez, told AFP that no one was hurt but there was economic damage.

Agriculture Minister Carlos Furche told national radio the disaster was “a sort of earthquake” for the region.

President Michelle Bachelet took time out of hosting a visit by French counterpart Francois Hollande to monitor the situation and declare the state of catastrophe, which allows soldiers to be used to help battle the fire. A farming emergency was also decreed.

Bachelet said France was offering help and she was also reaching out to other countries.

Chile’s National Forestry Corporation said on Friday that outside assistance was needed. Interior Minister Mario Fernandez said helicopters and planes in particular were required.

What is a wildfire :

A wildfire or wild land fire is a fire in an area of combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or rural area. Depending on the type of vegetation where it occurs, a wildfire can also be classified more specifically as a brush fire, bush fire, desert fire, forest fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, or veld fire. Fossil charcoal indicates that wildfires began soon after the appearance of terrestrial plants 420 million years ago. Wildfire’s occurrence throughout the history of terrestrial life invites conjecture that fire must have had pronounced evolutionary effects on most ecosystems’ flora and fauna.

Earth is an intrinsically flammable planet owing to its cover of carbon-rich vegetation, seasonally dry climates, atmospheric oxygen, and widespread lightning and volcano ignitions.

Source: AFP