Chile Tackling Forest Fires That Engulfed Santiago in Smoke

Chilean emergency agencies are battling 18 wildfires across the central-southern region that choked the capital Santiago in smog over the weekend as the South American country enters a fourth year of drought.

The blazes have affected about 16,200 hectares (40,000 acres), nine times more than in the same period last year, national emergency service Onemi said in a statement on its website today. Damages may exceed $100 million, the head of government forestry unit Conaf told newspaper El Mercurio.

The affected region will contend with higher temperatures and winds this week, Agriculture Minister Luis Mayol said in a televised press conference today. The government declared “red alert” in several areas in its effort to contain the fires, deploying 131 brigades and evacuating families in some areas.

Forest fires near the rural town of Melipilla, 43 miles (70 kilometers) from Santiago, engulfed the capital with smoke on Jan. 4. The fires were “immense,” Juan Antonio Peribonio, governor of the Santiago metropolitan area, told television channel TVN.

Areas affected by fires have risen 791 percent from a year ago as the drought continues in January.

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