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Chile's President Says Cataclysmic Wildfires Are Largely Under Control

A flower shoots through a landscape razed by wildfires in Cauquenes, Chile, on Feb. 2. Chile's president has lifted a state of emergency and says the wildfires that destroyed large swaths of the country are mostly under control.
Esteban Felix

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet says wildfires that killed at least 11 people and caused more than $300 million in damage are mostly under control.

"[These are] the worst wildfires that Chile has suffered in its history ... [but] are now mostly under control," Bachelet said over the weekend, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. "That doesn't mean, however, that we are letting down our guard."

Last Wednesday, there were more than 70 active blazes in the country. On Monday, that number was down to 32, only six of which were still not contained, according to the country's ministry of Agriculture.

Deutsche Welle reported that the director of the National Forestry Corporation, Aaron Cavieres, said rain and falling temperatures in some areas have helped stop the fires. "We are nearing the end of this mega emergency," he said.

Fires have incinerated more than 2,300 square miles in Chile since the season began last July, according to the country's Ministry of Agriculture.

A road cuts through a landscape razed by wildfires in Cauquenes, Chile, on Feb. 2.
Esteban Felix / AP
A road cuts through a landscape razed by wildfires in Cauquenes, Chile, on Feb. 2.

To coordinate the rebuilding effort, Bachelet appointed the current undersecretary of public works, Sergio Galilea, to a newly created "national reconstruction director" position, according to the Venezuelan English-language newspaper the Latin American Herald Tribune.

On Monday, Chile's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the government of the United Arab Emirates had donated $5 million in aid. The German Foreign Office said it had contributed about $215,000 to the German Red Cross for relief efforts in Chile.

As we have reported, at least 13 other countries have sent people to help fight the wildfires, which were concentrated in the central and southern part of the country:

"The U.S. has sent four people, as has Japan. Panama, Russia, Colombia, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, Peru, Spain, France, Venezuela and Argentina have all sent 20 or more firefighters. Argentina contributed the most manpower, with 130 people on the ground in Chile as of Wednesday.

"The Brazilian military has contributed a C-130 aircraft to help fight the fires from above. The Russian government also sent an aircraft, according to Chile's public safety department."

The U.S. government also contributed $840,000, including funds used to purchase personal hygiene kits for residents of the town of Santa Olga, on the central coast, which was completely destroyed by a fire.

A private U.S. company sent a Boeing 747 "supertanker" aircraft with a 12-person crew, paid for by a private foundation.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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