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News > Chile

Chile Fights Massive Forest Fires as President Grants Himself Sweeping Powers

  • High flames burn through the O'Higgins regions in southern Chile in Jan 2017.

    High flames burn through the O'Higgins regions in southern Chile in Jan 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 February 2019

President Sebastian Piñera says arsonists will be punished to the full extent of the law. 

Chilean President Sebastian Piñera says he will continue to invoke the State Security Law giving the president sweeping security powers, regarding the major forest fires that have burned some 8,300 hectares in the country’s southern regions of Araucania said Bio Bio. So far the widespread flames have killed two people, injured three and left at least 100 homeless.

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The head of state announced Monday while visiting Temuco in Araucania: "We will persecute the arsonists to the end of the world and we will apply the most severe laws" against them.

Two suspects were arrested Sunday when park rangers at the Conguillio National Park in Araucania were caught lighting fires in the park, which was closed to try to prevent forest fires. The two are still in detention.

Piñera did not rule out declaring a state of emergency in the two regions.

"There are 21 detected fires, 15 of which are being fought. One of them is in the observation stage and five are under control," the Chilean leader told the press Monday.

The administration has promised to send in 26 airplanes and two military aircraft Thursday to douse the fires in Araucania and another 600 firefighters will arrive.

is week to help put out the flames engulfing the rural regions.

In the community of Carahue the fires have affected almost two thousand hectares of land and Mayor Alejandro Saez says the town has never experienced fires of this magnitude.

"This (fire) has been the largest in intensity," said Saez, who didn’t rule out the flames were set intentionally.

"Some doubts remain, because these were nine (fires) that appeared simultaneously on Saturday. The investigation will later give results of what happened" said Saez.

Water access is proving to be another problem explained a regional director of the interior department, Janet Medrano.

She said that where there are several fires within one community water has to be trucked in. "People from rural areas have had to ... (be) delivered in through this system of trucks to protect their homes or their land" Medrano told the press.

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