Forest fire closes Chile nature reserve
Santiago - A massive forest fire raged Friday uncontrolled in southern Chile, forcing the closure of a famed national park after consuming thousands of hectares of the Patagonian steppe.
Winds of up to 90km/h were expected to fan the flames and worsen the situation at the Torres del Paine National Park, where 5 700ha of land have been ravaged by the flames.
"We are faced with a hugely complex situation, an extreme scenario, mainly due to topography, strong winds and highly combustible vegetation," said Vicente Nunez, head of Chile's Office of National Emergency (ONEMI).
Neighbouring Argentina was helping to try to bring the blaze under control and the Chilean government had deployed hundreds of soldiers, four planes and a helicopter to the remote, mountainous region.
The inferno erupted late on Tuesday and advanced rapidly in dry conditions, forcing authorities to close the park, which is located some 3 000km south of Santiago, close to the border with Argentina.
Some 400 tourists were evacuated from Torres del Paine on Thursday, when the blaze had only burned 1 500ha of the park.
Glaciers and Andean lakes lie alongside natural forests and the Patagonian steppe at the 2 400km², semi-desert nature preserve, visited by several thousand tourists each year.
A 2005 bush fire started by a Czech backpacker destroyed 160km² of Torres del Paine's pristine parkland.
Late December is peak season for hikers in the park and Chilean officials said the current blaze was very likely the result of human negligence.