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Chile battles three huge forest fires

Helicopters fight a massive forest fire affecting the commune of Ranquil, in southern Chile's Bio Bio region, some 450 Km south of Santiago, on Jan. 4, 2012. Forest fires in southern Chile, fueled by intense heat and strong winds, advanced further Wednesday after destroying nearly 45,000 hectares, officials said. The worst of the blazes were concentrated in Chile's Bio Bio region, where about 24,800 hectares have been destroyed, according to Chile's National Emergency Office (Onemi). Some 600 people have been evacuated from the area and some 160 homes have been destroyed.

AP reports: SANTIAGO, Chile — Firefighters in Chile battled three huge wildfires Monday that have burned about 90 square miles (23,000 hectares) of forest, destroyed more than 100 homes and have driven away thousands of tourists while causing millions of dollars in losses.

Chile's normally rainy southern regions are suffering from a nationwide heat wave, on top of a drought that makes fires increasingly likely. The country was battling 48 separate fires on Sunday alone, and red alerts were declared for the regions of Magallanes, Bio Bio and Maule.

Ariel Marinkovic / EPA

Firefighters triying to control the fire on the outskirts of Quillon, a rural town located 450 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 4, 2012.

Ariel Marinkovic / EPA

Firefighters try to control the fire on the outskirts of Quillon, a rural town located 450 kilometers south of Santiago, Chile, on Jan. 4, 2012.

AFP - Getty Images

Tourists hike at the Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile on Jan. 04, 2012. Firefighters reported that most outbreaks in the national park Torres del Paine, where the fires started a week ago, were no longer spreading. The fires consumed 14,504 hectares.The park, which is visited every year by thousands of tourists, was partially reopened to the public Wednesday.