Hundreds of people have been forced to evacuate their homes in the worst-hit area of Bio Bio in central Chile, which lies around 500km south of Santiago. Here, the fires have burnt around 225 square kilometres of forest and destroyed a wood-panel factory owned by the forestry arm of the Chilean Copec conglomerate. Hundreds of firemen are still tackling at least 20 fires, which have been fanned by strong winds. Local people have been using whatever comes to hand in their efforts to keep the flames from spreading.
In the far south of Chile, fire fighters have managed to bring fires in the Torres del Paine National Park under control. A tourist from Israel has been charged with starting the fires through negligence and could face a fine or imprisonment if found guilty. The Park is a popular attraction for tourists to Patagonia and the government of Israel has offered to donate seedlings. Approximately 145 square kilometres of parkland has been burned. But most areas have now been reopened to the public.
However, in the central Bio Bio area, the sheer number of fires and their quick spread are proving hard to combat. Forest fires are a frequent occurrence in summer, but the extremely dry conditions of late have made this outbreak particularly severe. Today, the BBC reports that Chilean police are investigating whether some of the wildfires in Bio Bio might have been started deliberately. Officials are suspicious because blazes in more than eight different places occurred around the same time. The Chilean Interior minister, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, has said that the likelihood of fires being started in the Arauco forest area of Bio Bio is “disgracefully, a probability that we cannot dismiss”. The minister labelled anyone found responsible as “criminals” and “killers” and promised they would be brought to justice.
SOS Children's Village Coyanco evacuated
Due to the fires in the Bio Bio region, the children and staff of the SOS Children’s Village of Coyanco were temporarily evacuated. Coyanco is around 40km from Chillán, five hours south of Santiago. The children and staff were moved to another SOS Children’s Village in Bulnes, further north, but were able to return home on 6 January.