Jan. 27 (UPI) — Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Russia has sent an Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlifter to conduct firefighting operations amid the South American country’s worst fires in history.
“We accept generous Russian government support [of the] Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft to fight fires,” Bachelet said in a statement, adding her administration has also requested helicopter help.
Bachelet said she held a meeting with private entrepreneurs from the regions affected by the fires, adding that the private sector said it is “committed to continue supporting in emergency.”
At least six people have died in the fires that have scorched more than 1,120 square miles, Chile’s Ministry of Interior and Public Safety said in a statement.
Early Friday, the agency, known as ONEMI, said there are 77 active fires, 51 fires that have been controlled and 14 that have been extinguished.
France, Colombia, Mexico and Russia have sent assistance to help Chile amid what Bachelet called “the most brutal fire our history has ever recorded.”
About 4,500 people, including Chilean troops, firefighters and volunteers, are working to douse the flames. Officials have deployed about 50 airplanes and helicopters.
The fires have affected Coquimbo, Valparaíso, El Maule, Bío Bío, La Araucanía, Los Lagos, O’Higgins, Metropolitana de Santiago, Magallanes, La Antártica Chilena and Los Ríos — 11 of Chile’s 15 administrative divisions.
The town of Las Corrientes in El Maule was destroyed. The fires burned down a thousand homes, police and firefighter barracks, schools, a healthcare center and industrial buildings, Carlos Valenzuela, the mayor of a nearby town, said.
ONEMI said it has delivered 36,000 gallons of fuel; more than 30,000 bottles of water; 3,600 blankets, 1,900 personal hygiene kits; 1,300 mattresses; and 850 boxes of food. Smoke emanating from the fires can be seen from outer space.