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Chile asks for international support to fight forest fires as death toll nears two dozen

A helicopter assists during a wildfire in Santa Juana, near Concepcion, Chile, February 3, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Chile's government called for international help on Saturday to fight the devastating forest fires ravaging thousands of hectares and killing nearly two dozen people.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha said they are asking for support from Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay after reporting 22 deaths from the severe forest fires that have destroyed some 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) in central and southern Chile.

"Through the Foreign Ministry, we have requested international support. We have spoken to several governments to reinforce the efforts that were previously being made with the companies that provide the services,” the minister said.

Toha added, “These requests include the search for equipment to bolster the fleet and brigades that can reinforce the work on the ground. We are in contact with several countries in the region, such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay."

Dozens of wildfires blazing though Chile caused the government to extend an emergency order to another region on Saturday, as a scorching summer heatwave complicates efforts to control fires.

A resident tries to put out the fire during a wildfire in Santa Juana, near Concepcion, Chile, February 3, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

The emergency order declared by the Interior Ministry now covers the region of La Araucania, just south of the previously declared regions of Biobio and neighboring Nuble, located near the center of the South American country's long Pacific coastline. The three regions are home to many farms and forest land.

The order allows for the deployment of soldiers and additional resources to deal with the natural disaster.

On Friday, an emergency-support helicopter in La Araucania crashed, killing its pilot and a mechanic, according to officials.

Authorities reported that 11 of the victims, or half of the casualties reported so far, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located some 310 miles (500 km) south of capital Santiago.

Since late last week, helicopters have dropped fire retardant over raging fires amid billowing clouds of smoke that obstructed roads while firefighters and local residents alike sought to contain the flames against the backdrop of a hazy, orange-tinted sky.

National forestry agency CONAF reported on Saturday that 80 of 231 total wildfires are being actively battled, while 151 of them are under control.

About a couple dozen fires have been designated at the red alert level.

(Source: Reuters)

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