Fires destroy tens of thousands of acres in Chile

Santiago, Jan 7 (IANS/EFE) Forest fires have destroyed some 16,200 hectares (about 40,500 acres) over the past week in central and southern Chile and the damage so far is estimated at $100 million, the government announced Monday.

Firefighters are currently battling 18 blazes.
“I want to provide the peace of mind that, although there are a large number of active fires, they are being controlled by the different entities,” national emergency management chief Ricardo Toro said.
Since the weekend, several sectors of Santiago have been covered with dense clouds of smoke that have moved in from nearby areas, such as Melipilla, southwest of the capital, a situation that has caused a certain amount of unease among the public.
The government announced that on Monday a multisector meeting headed by President Sebastian Piñera will be held to analyse the situation.
Different regions of the country are under advisories, due to the fires and the weather conditions, which have been marked by unusually high temperatures – above 30 degrees Celsius – that have contributed to drying out pastures, brush and trees in agricultural areas.
“Last year, in the southern region the rains lasted almost until the end of December, which delayed the fires,” Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol said at a press conference.
“This year,” he noted, “the last rains were on Nov 15, and so the conditions for the fires are better and they came early. Therefore, the statistics with respect to last year have not been favorable.”