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SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chilean firefighters were battling to hold back forest fires on Monday as authorities said hot and dry weather would continue this week, potentially exacerbating what are already the deadliest blazes in the country’s recent history.
The fires, which have consumed 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres) of land, have killed 26 people so far in south-central Chile, and already made 2023 the second-worst year in terms of hectares burned after the so-called “fire storm” that hit the country in 2017.
The state National Forestry Corporation reported that as of Monday morning there were 275 active fires, of which 69 were currently in combat.
“Unity to face the tragedy, unity to rebuild ourselves,” President Gabriel Boric wrote on Twitter.
Chile is in the grip of an over decade-long period of dry weather, which the World Meteorological Organization called a “mega drought” last year, adding it was the longest in a thousand years and marked a major water crisis. The heat wave and strong winds have caused a rapid spread of the flames during the Southern Hemisphere summer season.
The country’s interior minister said on Monday that 11 people so far have been arrested for actions related to the fires, without providing details on the nature of the suspected crimes because of ongoing investigations. On Friday, Mr. Boric pointed to signs that some of the fires may have been started intentionally.
Between Sunday and Monday, aid arrived in Chile from Argentina, Spain and Mexico, while the authorities said they expected to receive new support from Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal and Venezuela.
The fires have not affected the mining industry in the world’s top copper-producing nation, with mines located mostly in the north of the country, but they have hit Chile’s agricultural and major forestry sectors.
The Chilean Wood Corporation, an industry association, told Reuters on Monday that its partners are currently focused on the emergency and do not yet have a preliminary assessment of the impact.