Chile forest fires kill at least 64 as president says death toll is likely to rise

February 5, 2024
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At least 64 people have been killed by forest fires raging in Chile, President Gabriel Boric said Sunday afternoon, adding that the number of victims is likely to rise.

In a news conference Saturday, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said there are 92 active fires burning that have affected more than 43,000 hectares. On Sunday Tohá added that more than 1,350 homes have already been affected.

Boric has issued an order for two days of national mourning for the forest fires victims — both those who have lost loved ones and those who have lost their property.

In a virtual address, Boric acknowledged the loss of life and homes and promised Chileans that the government was actively working to provide resources.

“I know that it is a very difficult time to lose the house that was built with so many years of sacrifice,” the president said. “Losing a family member, a loved one, is a heartbreak impossible to measure, but rest assured that our government is deployed with all the human, technical and budgetary resources.”

A woman cries after a friend died in the wildfire.
A woman cries after a friend died when a wildfire reached the Villa Independencia neighborhood in Viña del Mar, Chile, on Saturday.Esteban Felix / AP

The fires triggered evacuations in several regions of central Chile.

In February 2023, fires in the country swept through more than 400,000 hectares and killed more than 22 people.

Though this year’s fires have not spread as widely, Tohá said they are “multiplying rapidly” and are spreading closer to urban areas, so the potential to affect more people and structures is “very high.”

The fires broke out as Chile faces a heat wave that has affected other Latin American countries as well.

Aerial view of a burnt homes
The aftermath of a wildfire in the hills of Viña del Mar, Chile, on Saturday.Javier Torres / AFP – Getty Images

Boric declared a state of emergency, and red alerts were issued for at-risk areas. The Education Ministry has established 20 shelters in the regions of Valparaíso, O’Higgins and Los Lagos.

Boric also flew over the region to assess the affected areas. “We have worked to have the greatest resources in our history to face the wildfire season and deploy them from day one to prevent (forest fires) and help people,” he said.

Nineteen helicopters and more than 450 firefighters have been brought into the area to combat the blazes. Additionally, all mass commercial events in Valparaíso were suspended — including sporting, recreational and cultural events — in order to focus efforts on the fires.

“Every time there is a massive event, that means a demand for security teams and authorities who are distracted from what is central today,” Tohá said. “That is why we need there to be no distraction.”

Esval, a Chile-based water utilities company, said its teams were working to stabilize service in order to “supply and boost water in fire zones.” In a news release, Esval regional manager Alejandro Salas also encouraged customers to postpone nonurgent tasks such as washing clothes and watering gardens.

curfew was extended for the towns of Quilpué, Viña del Mar, Linache and Villa Alemana until Sunday to allow clearer routes for operational teams to maneuver and for evacuations to take place.





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