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Chileans hope to recover from country’s worst wildfires

A flower shoots through a barren landscape decimated by by wildfires in Chile’s Cauquenes Province.Esteban Felix/Associated press

SANTIAGO — The flames consumed everything on Sonia Diaz’s land: the machinery, supplies, even the shed for her sheep. But the 70-year-old artisan weaver still hopes to rise from the ashes.

Diaz is one of thousands of people who have lost most of their belongings and their livelihoods to some of the worst wildfires in Chile’s history. Besides farmers and ranchers, hundreds of small-scale winemakers, beekeepers, and artisans have also lost everything.

With the flames seeming to be finally dying down — though they sometimes spread anew when winds whip up smoldering ash — survivors are looking at how to recover their livelihoods amid complaints by some that state aid is not enough given the extent of the destruction.


‘‘I’m going to rise again through hard work, and hard work alone,’’ said Diaz, who had been assessing the damage to her town with other local artisans when she got a call warning her that the flames were spreading fast from the hills onto her land.

By the time she arrived, the fires had destroyed her supplies, including the wool she uses to make blankets, tapestries, and shawls. Everything got burned but her home located in Pumanque, some 130 miles south of the capital, Santiago.

The ferocity of the blazes led President Michelle Bachelet to issue a state of emergency, deploy troops, and seek international aid. Supertanker planes from the United States and Russia have dumped thousands of gallons of water on the area.

In all, some 20,000 people, including firefighters and experts from a dozen countries, have battled the wildfires that Bachelet has called the worst forest disaster in Chile’s history. At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the fires.

The fires have consumed forests and entire towns. But many continue to show the same stoicism that has helped Chileans to recover from other natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.


Bachelet said on Friday that the flames are no longer threatening residential areas and that her government is beginning to hand out money and food to the worst-hit areas.

‘‘The emergency situation is still ongoing, so it’s important to not drop our guard,’’ Bachelet said.

So far, the government has spent about $330 million to control the emergency and is helping farmers rebuild their homes and lands, said Finance Minister Rodrigo Valdes. The full extent of the damage has yet to be quantified.

Before the flames were brought under control, more than 100 wildfires were raging in Chile, spreading from the mountains to the Pacific coast, destroying forests, livestock, and entire towns in their destructive path.