Monday, January 2, 2012

Santiago, Chile battles 3 huge wildfires; 1 killed, tourists evacuated, losses in millions

Firefighters in Chile battled three huge wildfires Monday that have burned about 90 square miles (23,000 hectares) of forest, destroyed more than 100 homes and have driven away thousands of tourists while causing millions of dollars in losses.

The fires also claimed their first victim: an elderly man who refused warnings to leave his home.

Chile’s normally rainy southern regions are suffering from a nationwide heat wave, on top of a drought that makes fires increasingly likely. The country was battling 48 separate fires on Sunday alone, and red alerts were declared for the regions of Magallanes, Bio Bio and Maule.

“We have a situation of extreme vulnerability,” said President Sebastian Pinera, who called for toughening sentences for arson.

In the Bio Bio region, the timber industry is threatened by a fire that destroyed an Arauco company mill. Shares in Arauco’s parent company, Copec SA, dropped nearly 4 percent before recovering in Monday trading. One of the Bio Bio fires also killed a 75-year-old man who refused to evacuate. Hundreds of others who did leave their homes were forced to relocate yet again early Monday as the flames advanced. Read More