7 firefighters killed in Chile wildfires

Nearly 50 wildfires have sprung up in southern Chile, destroying hundreds of houses, forcing thousands to evacuate


CAUTIN, Chile — Shifting winds caused flames to sweep over a group of firefighters battling wildfires in Chile, killing seven of them and badly burning two.

A 10th firefighter listed as missing after his brigade was trapped in the flames was later found unhurt, said Miguel Mellado, governor of Cautin, a state about 450 miles south of the capital Santiago.

Nearly 50 wildfires have sprung up in southern Chile, destroying hundreds of houses, forcing the evacuations of thousands of people and damaging the forestry and tourism industries that fuel the economy in the country's Patagonia region.

The wildfires alongside the Cordillera de la Costa are being by fuelled by strong winds, unusually high temperatures and dangerously dry conditions.
A sudden shift in the high winds left the group of firefighters overwhelmed by flames.

"The wind trapped them and the flames passed over" the firefighters, Mr Mellado said.

Fires have blackened much of the Torres del Paine park, which attracts 150,000 tourists annually, most during the brief southern summer, and destroyed at least part of a mill run by Chile's leading timber company.

Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil have answered appeals for help from President Sebastian Pinera, who said a number of the blazes appeared to have been started intentionally.

"We have trustworthy information that makes us suspect that behind these fires there has been criminal intent," he said at a news conference in the presidential palace.

A criminal investigation is being opened under Chile's severe anti-terrorism law and will be used against anyone found responsible for starting a fire, he said.

Earlier in the week, an elderly man in the Bio Bio region was killed in a fire after refusing orders to evacuate his home and another resident was reported missing.

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