The forest fires that hit the central south of Chile a week ago now threaten to spread to other regionswhich increases the challenge of more than 3,400 volunteer firefighters fighting the flames.
The authorities declared a red alert in sectors of the southern region of Los Ríos, due to a fire that affects the municipalities of Corral and Valdivia. They also fear that new outbreaks will be generated in O’Higgins and the Santiago Metropolitan region, further north, as a result of a new wave of extreme heat, with temperatures that will exceed 37ºC until next Friday, according to forecasts.
“It can generate a very complex situation from the climatic point of view. For this reason, all the equipment must be prepared in the eventuality and need to be able to fight fires that could arise, ”said the Undersecretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve, on Tuesday.
Forest fires leave 24 dead in Chile and almost a thousand injured
The last balance indicated that 301 active sources remain, 81 of which are being fought.
At least 26 people lost their lives and 2,180 were injured by the fires in the regions of Ñuble, Biobío and La Araucanía, declared in a state of catastrophe by the government of the leftist Gabriel Boric.
Since the current crisis began on Wednesday of last week, the flames have consumed more than 290,000 hectares and destroyed 1,150 homes, according to the count of the National Service for Prevention and Response to Disasters (Senapred).
As a result of the fires, emergencies and pre-emergencies have also been declared due to the cloud of smoke that covers a large part of Chilean territory, including Santiago.
15 people were arrested for their possible responsibility at the start of the firesand in eight of those cases formal charges have already been filed.
firefighters ad honorem
On the front lines against fire are the brigade members of the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) and forestry companies, in addition to 3,400 firefighters from the area and from other regions to redouble their efforts to put out the accidents.
Unlike the brigade members, Firefighters in Chile are completely volunteers and do not receive a salary for their work in emergencies.
“What moves us to be firefighters is will and service. No remuneration is going to replace the gratitude of the people,” firefighter José Antonio Sepúlveda (26), a commercial engineer, told AFP.
Sepúlveda lives in the city of Concepción (510 km south of Santiago), but he moved with his company to Santa Juana to try to contain the tide of fire that has already devastated almost half of this municipality.
It is in their free time or with the permission of their employers that firefighters are dedicated to responding to emergencies.
The firefighter Macarena Fernández (31), a physical education teacher who lives in the town of Nacimiento, also in the province of Concepción (Biobío), arrived in Santa Juana four days ago to join the operations taking advantage of the summer and school holidays.
“Friday was the most critical day for us, the most intense, with a lot of work. What was humanly possible was done, what was within our resources, ”he recounts.
The volunteer confesses that “the most dramatic thing is to see the situation of the people who are losing their homeswithout his family, without his animals and totally destitute”.
“The firefighters here (Santa Juana) are working over 18 hours a day, sleeping very little, putting all his claw”, highlights Danilo Figueroa (50), an electrician and nursing technician who has been working as a firefighter for more than 20 years.
Figueroa recounts that some colleagues, while they were fighting the fire, were called to tell them that their houses had burned down. “Even so, they are without anything, they don’t give up,” he says.
It’s a bit contradictory you are serving other people and they call you to tell you that your house is burning”, says firefighter Sepúlveda.
But after almost a week of uninterrupted emergency, the government said that there are employers who are demanding the return of their employees who also work as firefighters.
“We have learned that in some places (…) they lost many fire teams” because they were called by their employers to return to their jobs, “showing signs that the time to do this volunteering was already too long,” he lamented. the Chilean Minister of the Interior, Carolina Tohá.
“That time, as long as there is a fire that threatens lives, is not too long. (…) When there are more days (of fires), the volunteers are more needed, the more tired they are and the more they need the support and willingness of their employers to give this type of facilities”, emphasized the minister. (YO)
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