The Government of Chile has declared a “red alert” in the central part of the country due to the heat wave stemming from 39 major forest fires as the wave keeps spreading throughout the country, most of them in Araucania (17) but also in Bío Bío (7), Ñuble (7), Maule (4), Los Lagos (3), and one in the Santiago Metropolitan Region.
The National Service for Disaster Prevention and Response reported that in addition to the 39 fires currently being fought, there were four others under observation, while 141 were already under control, and 20 had already been extinguished.
Authorities ordered a series of preventive evacuations in several towns, as well as the interruption of highway traffic in the most affected areas where 181 hectares of scrubland and pastureland were burned out, threatening nearby homes.
The main cause for the fires is said to be the summer high temperatures which reached 41 degrees Celsius in the Chillán area.
Meteorologists forecast that the heat wave will last until Sunday. The last major fires to affect Chile were recorded in the summer of 2017 when the flames swept through entire villages, causing 11 deaths and more than 580 thousand hectares affected.
The state-owned National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) reported that in the Ñuble region, the fire has already affected some 550 hectares in the area of Chillán Viejo and another 200 hectares in another town near the regional capital, burning infrastructure and some houses.
Agriculture Minister Esteban Valenzuela told reporters that in addition to the heat wave, the dry and hot Puelche wind from the eastern cordillera was also expected in the central-southern zone. Valenzuela also announced the temporary closure of seven national parks from Santiago to the south in the Metropolitan, Ñuble, Biobío, La Araucanía, and Aysén regions to prevent new fires, and also ordered the evacuation of rural areas of Ñuble, where simultaneous forest fires were reported.