The death toll from raging wildfires in central Chile has reached six, as the flames displace thousands of people from their homes and reduce vast stretches of forests to ashes.
Chilean Interior Minister Mario Fernandez announced the latest death toll late on Wednesday, saying that the discovery of the bodies of two police officers in the Maule River had raised the earlier toll of four.
One firefighter had lost his life earlier in the day after getting stuck while trying to rescue a trapped family from their home in the vicinity of the city of Constitucion in Talca Province. Three more firefighters had also been killed while battling the fierce forest fires, which started last Wednesday.
According to a statement by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), dozens of growing wildfires have so far destroyed some 238,000 hectares of forests in central and southern Chile, forcing the evacuation of at least 4,000 people.
It said that the fires were caused by humans, but it remained to be determined whether they were set intentionally.
The huge fires have raged mainly in thinly-populated rural areas in O’Higgins and El Maule regions, located in the country’s center, where the inferno destroyed homes, pasture, and livestock.
All affected areas are under a state of emergency, while several cities, including the capital, Santiago, are shrouded in smoke. Thousands of emergency workers and firefighters are trying to curb and extinguish the flames amid strong winds and a heat wave.
On Tuesday, President Michelle Bachelet said that she had ordered extra funds for tackling what she described as Chile’s worst forest fires ever.
According to CONAF, some 2,808 fires have hit Chilean forests since July 2016, burning a total of about 221,000 hectares of land, a large spike compared to previous years.
Wildfires often occur in Chile’s parched woods during the summer. Many of them are sparked as a result of human activities.