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At least 19 people killed in forest fires in Chile

A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar, Chile (AP)
A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar, Chile (AP)

Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left at least 19 people dead and destroyed about 1,100 homes, officials said.

Chile's interior minister Carolina Toha said there were currently 92 forest fires burning in the centre and south of the country, where temperatures have been unusually high this week.

The deadliest of the fires were occurring in the region of Valparaiso, where authorities urged people not to leave their homes so fire engines, ambulances and other emergency vehicles can transit with greater ease.

Ms Toha did not offer any details about the 19 people killed.

She said that two fires near the towns of Quilpue and Villa Alemana had burnt through at least 8,000 hectares (19,770 acres) since Friday.

One of the fires was threatening the coastal resort town of Vina del Mar.

Firefighters extinguish a fire burning a house (REUTERS)
Firefighters extinguish a fire burning a house (REUTERS)

Three shelters have been set up in the Valparaiso region, and Ms Toha said rescue teams were still struggling to reach the most heavily affected neighbourhoods.

Ms Toha said 19 helicopters and more than 450 firefighters had been brought into the area to control the blazes.

The El Nino weather pattern has caused droughts and hotter-than-usual temperatures along the west of South America this year, increasing the risk of forest fires.

In January, more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather.