Chilean wildfires destroy hundreds of homes, endanger world’s smallest deer

CHILLAN, Chile (Reuters): Forest fires across south-central Chile that have left 24 people dead and swallowed up hundreds of houses spread into new areas on Wednesday after raging overnight, burning up the habitats of vulnerable woodland animals.

“We call on everyone who can to take care of the forests which are currently on fire, and also of our animals, specimens of vital importance,” said Valentina Aravena, the manager at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Chillan.

Chile’s national forests association CONAF said on Wednesday the area affected by the fires had now spread to over 300,000 hectares (741,315 acres), an area nearly twice the size of Greater London.

Authorities said some 2,180 people have been injured and 1,180 houses have been destroyed, with most of the deaths and damages in the south-central Biobio, Araucania and Ñuble regions.

Late on Wednesday, Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the government would declare a curfew in some provinces starting on Thursday. She had earlier warned of a shortage of water tanks and urged providers to make them available.

In the rehabilitation center in Chillan, the capital of the Ñuble region, veterinarians treated burns on animals native to the woodlands, such as monito del monte, a small nocturnal marsupial, and pudus, the world’s smallest deer.

Aravena said these were essential species that helped spread seeds.

“We try to stabilize them, treat them, relieve pain from the burns they suffered, and ideally rehabilitate them so they can return to the wild,” she said.

In the vicinity of the nearby city of Quillon, local Enrique Narvaez watched firefighters at work overnight.

“The 2011 wildfire burnt down my house, all the trees, everything,” he said. “I don’t want to go through the same again now.”

Chilean President Gabriel Boric thanked his Brazilian counterpart who offered $672,000 in aid and said he was sending air force jet with firefighting equipment, personnel and experts. Spain, Colombia and Mexico are also giving assistance.

Chilean pulp and wood panel manufacturer Arauco, the forestry arm of Empresas Copec, said 40,000 hectares (98,842 acres) of its plantations could be potentially affected, though the possible extent remained unclear.

A day earlier, a Chilean minister warned that high temperatures forecast for this week could further complicate the situation.