By Cristobal Saavedra
RIO FUTA, Chile (Reuters) – As his parents fought wildfires threatening their home in southern Chile, 13-year-old Lucas Cespedes decided to take action, ferrying firefighters across the local river in a small yellow rowing boat to help them put out the flames.
The Andean country is battling some of the worst wildfires in years that have claimed 24 lives and burned through over 340,000 hectares (840,158 acres), affecting more than 5,400 people and destroying over a thousand homes.
“I ferried people across the river because I was desperate, my parents were fighting the fire and I was very scared that the fire would reach my house,” said Cespedes, who lives with his family in an area only accessible by water.
“There was no other person who could ferry people, so the only hope was me.”
Cespedes rowed the firefighters across 30 meters (98 ft)of the Futa River, a mighty waterway in Chile’s south near the city of Valdivia, about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of the capital Santiago. He has kept doing so as fires have raged on.
“Now I continue helping, I continue ferrying people across, bringing the firefighters,” added Cespedes.
The fires have been concentrated in the agricultural and forestry regions of central south Chile and come in the midst of a prolonged drought of over a decade that has impacted farming, city landscapes and mining in the world’s no. 1 copper producer.
Climate change increases hot and dry conditions that help fires spread faster, burn longer and rage more intensely.
(Reporting by Cristóbal Saavedra; Writing by Natalia Ramos; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Josie Kao)