The worst wildfires in Chile's modern history completely consumed the town of Santa Olga, destroying 1,500 homes. The body of one person was found under charred remains in the town. Authorities found another body burned inside a destroyed house in the coastal city of Concepcion, about 85 miles (140km) south of Santa Olga.
Officials later reported that a firefighter also died after a water truck rolled over. Dozens of teary-eyed firefighters took a moment from battling the blazes to pay homage to one of their colleagues who died in the flames while he evacuated a family to safety. Two police officers also died. The Ministry of the Interior identified the firefighter as Hernan Aviles Gonzalez, and the two police sergeants as Fredi Fernandez Garces and Mauricio Roca Sepulveda.
Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of Constitucion, said the fire service had abandoned Santa Olga in order to preserve their own lives due to the strength of the flames. He said that between 6,000 and 7,000 people in the region had lost their homes.
Forest fires are a regular feature of Chile's hot, arid summers, but a nearly decade-long drought combined with historically high temperatures have created tinder-dry conditions. Emergency services have battled the flames non-stop for days with thousands of firefighters on the ground and helicopters and small planes in the air.
Residents of some communities have been battling the fires themselves, without any protective gear and often using just branches or bottles of water in a frantic effort to save their homes, pasture and livestock. But those efforts are often undone as winds or smouldering ash spread the fires anew.
The ferocity of the flames prompted President Michelle Bachelet to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and ask for international help, calling it "the greatest forest disaster" in Chile's history. A Boeing 747-400 "Super Tanker" arrived in Chile from the US to help fight the blazes. The world's largest firefighting aircraft can dump nearly 20,000 gallons (73,000 litres) of fire retardant or water. Bachelet said in her Twitter account that Chile also had accepted a supertanker plane from the Russian government.
At least some of the fires may have been started intentionally and there had been a number of arrests in relation to ongoing investigations, Bachelet said.
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