Chilean firefighters fought dozens of raging wildfires on Sunday, trying to get a handle on one of the worst natural disasters the country has seen in years. At least 24 people have died, and nearly 1,000 more have been hurt.
A few countries have offered resources, such as planes and expert firefighting teams, which started to arrive on Sunday. The most intense wildfires have burned forests and farmland in three areas near the middle of the long Pacific coast of the South American country.
President Gabriel Boric declared emergencies there to help the primarily rural southern regions of Biobio, Nuble, and Araucania as quickly as possible.
Boric said on Sunday from the city of Puren in Araucania that his government would provide all the help that was needed, and he also tried to get people to work together in the face of the deadly wildfires.
“I’ve seen the resiliency of our people, and it’s exactly that spirit that has to guide us during this difficult time,” he said. “All together, we’ll come out of this ahead.”
Officials said on Sunday that the fires had burned about 270,000 hectares, about the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
In the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, a scorching heat wave has made it harder to put out fires because temperatures in some of the worst-hit areas have risen above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).
On Saturday night, flames could be seen leaping out of the wooded hills off the coast near the town of Dichato, near the city of Concepcion in the Biobio region. The flames lit up the boats in the small harbor.
More than half of the people who have died in the fires are from Biobio. Like Nuble and Araucania, Biobio has a lot of forests and farms that grow grapes and other fruits for export.
In some places, people who were lucky enough to have places to go before the fires got there ran as fast as they could to get to safety.
“Get in the pool! “Get in the pool up to your neck!” a woman said she yelled to her parents at their home near the town of Santa Juana in hard-hit Biobio. She didn’t want to give her name, but she did say what she said.
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She talked about how they had to move quickly to find a safe place to hide, leaving cars behind and begging neighbors to join them in the pool. Officials from the Interior Ministry said Sunday that about 260 fires are going on in the dry area, and 28 are especially dangerous.
About 1,500 people have gone to shelters in the area. Local hospitals say that at least 26 of the 970 people who were hurt are in terrible shape.
Officials in Chile have asked for help from around the world to fight the fires, which are starting every day. The government said it was helping Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, and Venezuela send help. Some help from abroad was already there.
On Sunday, officials said that a Spanish military unit would be there and that a plane called a “Ten Tanker” with a firefighting capacity of 36,000 liters would arrive on Monday.
Also on Sunday, two military planes, about 300 volunteers from Mexico, and a unique team of people and trucks from Argentina arrived, according to Chile’s foreign ministry.
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