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At least 99 people dead as wildfires rage in Chile, with fears toll could rise further

Feb 5, 2024, 5:30 AM

Chile wildfires...

Lines of traffic on Route 68, a road leading to the coast. (Bomberos de Chile)

(Bomberos de Chile)

Originally Published: 03 FEB 24 21:23 ET
Updated: 04 FEB 24 17:01 ET

(CNN) — At least 99 people have been killed in Chile as forest fires rage throughout the country, CNN Chile reported Sunday afternoon, citing the government’s Legal Medical Service (SML), with authorities warning the death toll is likely to rise.

A state of emergency has been declared as coastal cities like Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are choked in smoke and people living in central regions are forced to leave their homes.

There are 161 active fires across the country, according to Álvaro Hormazábal, director of the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service. Speaking on CNN Chile, Hormazábal said that firefighters have controlled 102 of those fires and are currently battling 40, while 19 are under observation.

President Gabriel Boric, in a press conference Sunday held after he visited the affected areas, said the death toll “will increase significantly” and declared Monday and Tuesday as days of national mourning for fire victims. So far, 32 people have been identified by SML, CNN Chile reports.

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. Authorities in 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.

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 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.

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At least 99 people dead as wildfires rage in Chile, with fears toll could rise further