On 20 January, the Chilean government declared a state of emergency due to wildfires raging in the south and central areas of the country, prompting an international response. Scorching over a million acres of land, the fires have been described as the worst in the country’s history, and as of late January, had claimed the lives of 11 people, including five firefighters. The town of Santa Olga, located in the Maule Region, was particularly badly affected. UK news outlet ITV has reported that over 7,000 residents had been displaced and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.
Over the previous few weeks, various wildfires had torn through the country, with over 120 fires breaking out. Firefighters in the country have been tackling the blazes, but strong winds and high temperatures meant that containment proved difficult. Over local 40 aircraft took to the air to try fight the flames, with the fire service asking for help from private aircraft aircraft owners, as well as requesting international assistance.
In response, the Russian Emergency Control Ministry (EMERCOM) announced on 28 January that it would be sending an Ilyushin II-76 waterbomber to help fight the fires. The plane flew 15,000 km (9,300 miles) to Chile, and EMERCOM said it hoped that the aircraft’s 42-ton water carrying capabilities would assist the firefighting efforts.
US-based Global Supertanker dispatched a 747 to join the efforts. The plane was hired at a cost of US$2 million by a wealthy Chilean living in the US, according to UK newspaper The Guardian. The aircraft completed its first drop on 25 January, using its 20,000-gallon carrying capability to assist in putting out blazes. The 747 teamed up with a Chilean Air Force P-295 twin-engine turbo prop to scout for the SuperTanker, along with an adapted Gulfstream G-4 that is being used to improve intelligence gathering. On 27 January, the 747 completed four missions, including one that helped to save the lives of five Chilean fire fighters who were ‘in imminent threat of being overrun by a fire’. It also dumped 19,200 gallons of water on a fire that was rapidly approaching a village, helping to save it from being engulfed by flames.
The Brazilian Air Force (FAB) deployed two C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 1st Troop Transport Group, which took off from Rio De Janeiro on 29 January with 28 military personnel onboard. The FAB explained that one of the two planes was equipped for firefighting purposes, with a Modular Airbourne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) onboard, whilst the other was assigned to carry supplies needed to complete the mission.
Elsewhere, the Spanish Air Force sent an Airbus 310 with 56 firefighters on board to the country, whilst additional aid has been sent from Canada, Colombia, France and Portugal.