Chile forest fires spark health alert as smoke spreads

Panoramic view of Santiago mantled by smoke created by multiple fires in southern and central Chile on 8 January, 2014 Santiago has become engulfed in smoke

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The Chilean government has declared a health alert in four of the country's 15 regions as smoke from dozens of forest fires spreads.

The fires - there are 70 separate ones - have destroyed 16,000 hectares of land, about eight times as much as was burned in forest fires last year.

Thick smoke has engulfed the capital, Santiago, creating the worst air conditions in seven years.

Strong winds and high temperatures have hampered the work of firefighters.

Workers from Chile's National Forestry Corporation rush to battle a forest fire at Tome town on 7 January, 2014 Forestry workers have been trying to create fire breaches to stop the flames

Santiago city officials urged residents to avoid exercising outdoors.

Health alerts have also been declared in the Valparaiso in the west and Araucania and Maule, both south of Santiago.

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