Officials looking into what caused them
Experts from abroad helping out
A chain of wildfires has unleashed a catastrophe over wide swaths of central and southern Chile, killing at least 11 people, destroying thousands of homes and consuming an area about three times the size of New York City, authorities said.
“We have never seen anything on this scale, never in the history of Chile,” President Michelle Bachelet, who has declared a state of emergency, said earlier this week.
“The truth is that the forces are doing everything humanly possible and will continue until they can contain and control the fires.”
Many of those killed are firefighters battling more than 100 separate fires, about half of which are still uncontrolled, according to government reports.
Bachelet said she planned to meet with the intelligence heads of police and armed forces to discuss the investigation into the cause.
“Because there are multiple points of origin, we cannot dismiss the possibility that there might be an intentional component here,” she said Thursday in Santiago.
“We are strongly following this and have been investigating it for some days, and I want to know how far we’ve gotten.”
The blazes, which began nearly two weeks ago, have spread quickly amid historically high temperatures and an ongoing drought. Nearly 240,000 hectares (593,000 acres) – about three times the size of New York City – have burned.
France, Russia, the United States and Peru have sent international help to combat the fires following last week’s declaration of a state of emergency in some of the worst-affected areas. Additionally, aid from Mexico and Colombia was expected to arrive this week.
The US Embassy in Chile said this week that US Agency for International Development was donating $100,000 USD to the nongovernmental organization Caritas Chile for the purchase and delivery of firefighting equipment, such as chainsaws and weather monitoring tools.
Additionally, the US Forest Service sent a four-member emergency response team of technical experts to work with local authorities.
The South America nation is vulnerable to earthquakes, forest fires, floods, and volcanic eruptions.
In 2014, a wildfire swept through hundreds of homes in the Pacific coastal city of Valparaiso, leaving at least 12 dead, according to an official.
At least 2,000 homes destroyed by the blaze and 8,000 people left without a place to live.
CNN’s Michael Roa, Natalie Gallon, Mallory Gafas, Angela Barajas, Marilia Brocchetto, Euan McKirdy and Begona Blanco Munoz contributed to this report.