Some 1,500 houses destroyed overnight in Chile forest fire

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Some 1,500 houses burnt down in the Chilean town of Santa Olga overnight on Wednesday, January 25th, the government said on Thursday, as the worst wildfires in the country's modern history ravage wide swaths of the central-south regions.

The mayor of the city of Constitucion, Carlos Valenzuela, said the fire service had abandoned Santa Olga at 1.30 A.M. 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, whilst government figures released on Thursday said that seven people have died, 298 were injured, 1192 evacuated and 1088 in shelters, as a result of the flames.

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People try to extinguish a fire in Cauquenes commune, Maule Region, Chile, Jan. 22, 2017. Chile is battling the worst forest fires in its history 'affecting an area 20 times larger than in 2016,' Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter Monday. The message came as firefighters battled 110 fires, 23 of them considered to be 'large scale,' spreading over 200 hectares or more, the El Mercurio daily reported online.

(Xinhua/Mario Davila/AGENCIA UNO via Getty Images) 

A woman holds her dog after a fire on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

Firefighters work to put out a fire in a house on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

A man works to ward off the fire from a house during a forest fire in the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 588,000 acres and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

A firefighter helicopter helps try to put out a forest fire in Litueche, 150 km south of Santiago, on January 24, 2017. The Chilean government declared a state of emergency in several central areas due to forest fires that have destroyed more than 140,000 hectares of woods so far.

(BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Smoke from forest fires is seen in a town called Pumanque in the O'Higgins region, south of Chile, January 20, 2017. Picture Taken January 20, 2017.

(Moises Catrilaf/National Institute of Agricultural Development(INDAP)/Handout via Reuters)

A firefighter mourns the loss of a colleague during a forest fire in the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 588,000 acres and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters remove the remains of a burned house on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

A firefighter helicopter helps try to put out a forest fire in the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 588,000 acres and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

People look at the forest fire in the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 588,000 acres and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Fire burns a house on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

A firefighter helicopter refills its water bucket during a forest fire in the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 588,000 acres and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

People evacuate the coastal resort of Llico, 276 kilometres south of Santiago, due to wildfires in the area on January 26, 2017. Six people -- among them four firefighters and two police -- have now been killed battling vast forest fires in central Chile, officials said Wednesday. Multiple blazes have ravaged 238,000 hectares (588,000 acres) and are growing, the National Forestry Corporation said in a statement.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters remove the remains of a burned house on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

Picture taken during a forest fire in Vichuquen, 283 km south of Santiago, on January 24, 2017. Chile's president ordered extra funds Tuesday to be spent on fighting the country's worst forest fires ever, as frantic locals called for help to save their homes, animals and farmland. Flames have destroyed 600 square miles of land in the center of the country and at least 4,000 people have been evacuated, the National Emergency Office said.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman holds a rooster burned during a fire on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

Firefighters are seen resting after working to extinguish fire on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

Smoke from a forest fire is seen, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

A resident is seen next to a burned car in front of dozens of houses burned on a hill, due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

Smoke from a forest fire is seen, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido)

A Chilean firefighter works during a forest fire in Litueche, 150 km south of Santiago, on January 24, 2017. The Chilean government declared a state of emergency in several central areas due to forest fires that have destroyed more than 140,000 hectares of woods so far.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Chilean firefighters and soldiers prepare to work during a forest fire in Litueche, 150 km south of Santiago, on January 24, 2017. The Chilean government declared a state of emergency in several central areas due to forest fires that have destroyed more than 140,000 hectares of woods so far.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

Picture taken during a forest fire in Vichuquen, 283 km south of Santiago, on January 24, 2017. Chile's president ordered extra funds Tuesday to be spent on fighting the country's worst forest fires ever, as frantic locals called for help to save their homes, animals and farmland. Flames have destroyed 155,000 hectares (600 square miles) of land in the center of the country and at least 4,000 people have been evacuated, the National Emergency Office said.

(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)

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Among those affected in Santa Olga was this man.

"We have been threatened by the fires for three days, and late yesterday afternoon around 10 P.M. the fire began. We had our hands tied because we are paying rent in the lower sector, and the fire came in thick. We were desperate, there was no remedy, there were already only a few of us here. Those who stayed were going round in circles, because I took my bag and went off to the city of Constitucion, we lost three houses we had here, there was nothing we could do," he said.

"I managed to get everyone out of the house, but the house burnt down even with the doors closed. All the clothes (I am wearing) is borrowed, the socks, the boots," said another resident.

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.

International help from France, the United States, Peru and Mexico has been pouring into Chile as the fires swept through forested hills and into neighboring towns, scorching homes, industry and the region's world-renowned vineyards. The country last week declared a state of emergency.

As of Wednesday, 85 separate fires had been recorded, covering some 469,500 acres - more than twice the area of New York City.

Chile's Conaf forestry service said that 35 of the fires were still out of control.

At least some of the fires may have been started intentionally and there had been a number of arrests in relation to ongoing investigations, said Bachelet.


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