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At Least 99 Dead in Chile Wildfires

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Chile Wildfires
Chile faces severe wildfires, prompting a red alert and emergency measures to protect communities and ecosystems – credit: Bomberos Chile

At least 99 people have died in Chile due to the severe forest fires that have been raging in Valparaiso. Until Saturday, the death toll was 55, but yesterday, Sunday, the figure increased exponentially and the authorities have warned that the final death toll will reveal “much higher figures”.

The wave of fires began on Friday, and the country’s president, Gabriel Boric, decreed a state of emergency due to catastrophe. The Chilean president has announced that he will investigate the cause of the fires in Valparaíso, and warned of serious consequences if arson is discovered.

The wave of fires has destroyed several homes and more than a hundred people have been evacuated from the region in what the Chilean government has described as the country’s worst tragedy since the 2010 earthquake. Some 1,500 manpower and more than 30 aircraft are working to extinguish the fires on the ground.

Government response and international aid

“Probably, after the 2010 earthquake, the forest fires in Valparaíso will be the emergency situation that has generated the most victims in Chile in recent times”, said the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Toha.

The current wave of fires comes just a year after the one that caused 27 deaths in the country in 2023. Although during yesterday weather conditions gave a truce, with a significant drop in temperature and an increase in humidity, it is feared that in the coming days conditions will be adverse again.

The austral summer is bringing high temperatures and low rainfall, conditions that favor the spread of fires.

372 people are missing

According to the mayor of Viña del Mar, Macarena Ripamonti, 372 people are missing and there are fears for their lives. This coastal municipality, located in the center of the Valparaíso region, is one of the most affected. “We are facing an unprecedented catastrophe,” said the local governor.

So far, several houses, built precariously on the slopes of the mountains, have been destroyed. During the day on Saturday, the fire reached an industrial zone, causing a huge toxic cloud that affected a large part of the municipality. The fire also burned the botanical garden, one of Viña del Mar’s tourist attractions. A worker and her family died in the conflagration.

Indications of intentionality in the fires

The fires started last Friday, February 2, in the morning hours. The flames spread at great speed, thanks to the high temperatures, usual at this time of the year, low humidity, and wind gusts that exceeded 60 km/h.

It also helped that this past year Chile has experienced one of the rainiest winters in the last 15 years, which experts warned would not solve the drought, but would facilitate the growth of vegetation that later becomes fuel for the flames.

A total of eight fires were declared, four of which are of great concern due to their proximity to inhabited areas. The largest fire has already burned a total of 8,000 hectares, affecting the Lago Peñuelas National Reserve, after overtaking Highway 68, which links the region with the interior of the country.

It is precisely at the junction of the two main fires that the authorities have affirmed that there are “serious indications” of arson.

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