At least 64 killed as wildfires rage in Chile with fears toll could rise further
Feb 4, 2024, 11:09 AM
(Bomberos de Chile)
(CNN) — At least 64 people have been killed in Chile as forest fires rage throughout the country, with authorities warning the death toll is likely to rise.
A state of emergency has been declared as coastal cities are choked in smoke and people living in central regions are forced to leave their homes.
In a press conference Sunday held after he visited the affected areas, President Gabriel Boric said the death toll “will increase significantly” and declared Monday and Tuesday as days of national mourning for fire victims.
Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaiso region, said Sunday that authorities were upholding a curfew in the towns of Viña del Mar, Quilpué, Villa Alemana and Limache to allow authorities to focus on battling the blazes.
The mayor of Quilpué, Valeria Melipillán, told CNN Chile that the fire was “probably the largest ever” in the region and that nearly 1,400 houses in the municipality had been damaged. Melipillán added that while evacuation efforts had been efficient, some people in the affected areas did not want to leave their homes.
Pope Francis in a post on ‘X’ called upon people to “pray for the deceased and injured victims of the devastating fires that have affected central Chile.”
In a televised statement on Saturday, Boric said that the defense ministry would deploy more military units to affected areas, with all necessary resources made available.
About 92 active fires are burning in various parts of the country and have so far affected roughly 43,000 hectares, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said. Firefighters have controlled 40 fires and are still battling 29, she added.
Earlier, Chile’s Finance Minister Mario Marcel told reporters that a preliminary estimate for damages in the Valaparaíso region would reach the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The fires come as the country is hit by a summer heatwave, with Chile’s capital Santiago sweltering through consecutive days of hot, dry temperatures climbing above 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F).
Scientists say climate change and the El Nino weather phenomenon are driving forces behind an increasingly warm planet, making events such as heatwaves and fires more likely.
At least one person has been detained so far in connection to the wildfires, CNN affiliate CNN Chile reported.
According to police, the man was at his home in the city of Talca in central Chile doing welding work when a fire accidentally started and spread to nearby grasslands, CNN Chile reported. The suspect will be arraigned on Sunday in Talca, according to the Maule Prosecutor’s Office.
Emergency crews are prioritizing the fires in the port city of Valparaíso on Chile’s coast because of their proximity to urban areas and around 372 residents have been reported missing, according to its mayor.
One of those fires has consumed some 6,800 hectares, Tohá said.
“The biggest concern is that some of the fires are in zones very close to urban areas, at the interface of urban areas, and therefore have a very high potential to affect people, homes and installations,” she added.
Toha told reporters that the death toll could rise in the coming hours as authorities try to confirm information from areas they haven’t been able to enter yet.
At least six of those who died did so while being treated in hospitals for burns, according to authorities.