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Chile's Worst Wildfires Destroy Town, Total Death Toll at 9

  • Associated Press

A man stands amid the remains of a burnt house after a forest fire devastated Santa Olga, 240 kilometres south of Santiago, Jan. 26, 2017.

Flames from one of Chile's worst wildfires completely consumed the town of Santa Olga as the death toll from the blazes since November rose to nine, officials said Thursday.

The flames engulfed the post office, a kindergarten, and about 1,000 homes Thursday in the town 220 miles (360 kilometers) south of the Chilean capital. The body of one person was found under the charred remains of the town, which another 6,000 residents fled unharmed. Officials have not identified the person who died.

"This is an extremely serious situation — of horror, a nightmare without an end," said Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of the neighboring coastal city of Constitucion. "Everything burned."

A crying woman is comforted amid the remains of a burnt-down house after a forest fire devastated Santa Olga, 240 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile, Jan. 26, 2017.
A crying woman is comforted amid the remains of a burnt-down house after a forest fire devastated Santa Olga, 240 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile, Jan. 26, 2017.

Authorities found another body burned inside a house destroyed in the flames about 85 miles (140 kilometers) south of Santa Olga in the coastal city of Concepcion, said Andrea Munoz, the governor of Concepcion province.

The fast-spreading blazes of recent weeks have destroyed about 385,000 acres (160,000 hectares) of forest and killed eight people. They include a firefighter and two police officers who died Wednesday.

The fires have been raging in central and southern Chile, fanned by strong winds, hot temperatures and a prolonged drought. Emergency services have battled the flames non-stop for days with firefighters on the ground and helicopters and small airplanes in the air. But the ferocity of the flames prompted President Michelle Bachelet to ask for international help.

A forest fire burns out of control in Santa Olga, 240 km south of Santiago, Jan. 25, 2017.
A forest fire burns out of control in Santa Olga, 240 km south of Santiago, Jan. 25, 2017.

A Boeing 747-400 "Super Tanker" arrived in Chile from the United States Wednesday to help fight the blazes. The world's largest fire-fighting aircraft can dump nearly 20,000 gallons (73,000 liters) of fire retardant or water. A delegation of Colombian experts was to assist Chilean firefighters on Thursday.

The central regions of O'Higgins and Chile's top wine-making region of Maule are among those hit worst. But fires are also raging in the south-central Bio Bio and Araucania regions, known for its timber industry and where most of Chile's Mapuche Indigenous people live.

Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy more fires are expected with forecasts of hotter temperatures, strong winds and low humidity in the coming days.

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