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Chile widens catastrophe zone as fires burn some 8,000 hectares By Reuters

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© Reuters. A firefighter works, as a wildfire burns parts of rural areas in Quillon, Chile, February 2, 2023 REUTERS/Juan Gonzalez

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SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile’s government widened areas under a state of emergency Friday amid wildfires that have consumed some 8,000 hectares (19,700 acres) as the South American nation endures a summer heat wave across southern and central swathes of the country.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha said Friday morning the government had declared a catastrophe in the region of Biobio, joining its neighbor region Nuble, which President Gabriel Boric announced Thursday evening.

Both regions are known for agriculture and forestry. 

Boric will travel to the regions after cutting his summer vacation short.

The catastrophe declaration allows the deployment of the armed forces and provides greater coordination in firefighting and public security.

Hundreds of homes have been damaged by dozens of fires, authorities said Friday. Thirty-eight are raging between the central capital city of Santiago and the country’s south, with the worst seen in Nuble and Biobio, as well as the Araucania region.

Shelters have opened for families affected by the fires, according to Chile’s disaster agency Senapred, which reported one person had suffered burns and eight firefighters had minor injuries.

Fires have disrupted traffic on highways in the burning areas, and numerous municipalities have been evacuated.

Authorities have controlled 146 fires.

Weather forecasts Friday predicted temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C) in Nuble’s capital Chillan. Strong winds are also expected in the area, which risk worsening fire conditions, the National Forestry Corporation warned.

“Today, unfortunately, we have twice as many hectares burned than in previous years,” the government’s spokesman in Nuble, Gabriel Pradenas, told local media.

“We are in a very critical state.”

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