Chile: fires kill at least 19 people

At least 19 people have died in the Chilean resort of Viña del Mar due to fires ravaging the Valparaiso region (western Chile) and other parts of the center and south of the country, announced Saturday, February 3, the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Toha

Chile: fires kill at least 19 people

At least 19 people have died in the Chilean resort of Viña del Mar due to fires ravaging the Valparaiso region (western Chile) and other parts of the center and south of the country, announced Saturday, February 3, the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Toha. “There are 19 dead (…). All the bodies have been recovered,” she said, adding that 15 of the victims had been identified. These fires also led to forced evacuations.

The 19 deaths were counted in a single sector of Viña del Mar, but the minister warned that the toll could rise. This assessment “is very provisional”, because emergency services have not yet been able to access other sectors also ravaged by the fire, she declared. The minister reported 92 active fires, 40 of which are under control, and 43,000 hectares burned.

“The priority is the fires in the Valparaiso region, due to their proximity to urban areas. There are several, but two are the most worrying,” she detailed, specifying that they were that of Las Tablas, with 6,800 hectares burned, and that of Lo Moscoso, in Quilpué, with 1,150 hectares charred. These are areas located between 80 and 120 km northwest of Santiago, rich in wine, agricultural and forestry businesses. Due to their proximity to the Pacific beaches, they experience an influx of tourists during this period of the austral summer.

Scorching temperatures

Chilean President Gabriel Boric declared a state of emergency in order to “have all the necessary means” in the face of the progression of the fires. Fourteen ships and five helicopters were mobilized to fight these fires.

Since Wednesday, the temperature has been close to 40°C in central Chile and the capital, Santiago. “These episodes are more and more recurrent, which is why we see historic temperature records every year,” Pablo Lobos Stephani, responsible for fire protection at the National Forestry Company (or Conaf, for Corporacion Nacional Forestal).

This heatwave resulting from the El Niño climatic phenomenon is currently affecting the southern cone of Latin America, in the middle of summer, causing forest fires worsened by global warming. The heat wave threatens, after Chile and Colombia, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, in the coming days.