Wildfires claim 46 lives in Chile's Valparaiso region, devastate 1,100 homes | Mint
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Business News/ News / World/  Wildfires claim 46 lives in Chile's Valparaiso region, devastate 1,100 homes
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Wildfires claim 46 lives in Chile's Valparaiso region, devastate 1,100 homes

Wildfires in Chile have killed at least 46 people and destroyed over 1,100 homes in the Valparaiso region. President Gabriel Boric urged cooperation with rescue workers and warned of the difficult firefighting conditions caused by high temperatures, strong winds, and low humidity.

A house burns amid the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido (REUTERS)Premium
A house burns amid the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido (REUTERS)

Destructive wildfires in central Chile, particularly around the densely populated region of Valparaiso, have claimed the lives of at least 46 individuals, according to President Gabriel Boric's announcement on Saturday evening.

As reported by the Associated Press, over 1,100 homes have been reported as destroyed. President Boric expressed concern that the casualty count might rise further as four significant fires continue to rage in Valparaiso, complicating firefighting efforts in reaching the most vulnerable neighbourhoods.

Boric urged Chileans to cooperate with rescue workers. “If you are told to evacuate don't hesitate to do it," he said. “The fires are advancing fast and climatic conditions have made them difficult to control. There are high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity."

Burnt houses are pictured amid the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Burnt houses are pictured amid the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (REUTERS)

Earlier on Saturday, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said that 92 forest fires were burning in the central and southern regions of Chile, exacerbated by unusually high temperatures during the week. The most fatal incidents occurred in the Valparaíso region, prompting authorities to strongly advise the evacuation of thousands of residents from their homes.

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In regions more distant from the wildfires, residents were instructed to remain at their homes. This directive aimed to facilitate the movement of fire engines, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles on the roads, ensuring smoother access to essential services amid the ongoing crisis.

AP reported that Tohá said two fires near the towns of Quilpué and Villa Alemana had burned through at least 8,000 hectares (19,770 acres) since Friday. Meanwhile, one of the fires threatened the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar, where some neighbourhoods had already been hit hard.

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Villa Independencia, a hillside neighbourhood situated on the eastern periphery of the town, suffered extensive devastation. Multiple blocks of residences and businesses were reduced to ruins, AP reported.

“I've been here 32 years, and never imagined this would happen," said Rolando Fernández, one of the residents who lost his home. He said he first saw the fire burning on a nearby hill Friday afternoon and within 15 minutes the area was engulfed in flames and smoke, forcing everyone to run for their lives.

“I've worked my whole life, and now I'm left with nothing," Fernández said as reported by AP.

To address the crisis, three shelters were established in the Valparaíso region. An effort was initiated, with 19 helicopters and over 450 firefighters mobilized to the area to combat the raging blazes, as communicated by Interior Minister Carolina Tohá. The fires posed a challenge as they engulfed mountains, including precarious neighbourhoods situated on the outskirts of Viña del Mar, making access and containment efforts particularly challenging.

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AP reported that officials reported power blackouts as a result of the fire, and Tohá said that in the Valparaíso region, four hospitals and three nursing homes for the elderly had to be evacuated. The fire also destroyed two bus terminals, the interior minister said.

The El Niño weather phenomenon, prevalent this year, has induced droughts and elevated temperatures along the western region of South America, intensifying the threat of forest fires. This climatic condition has heightened the risk of wildfires, with consequences observed in January when over 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forests in Colombia were devastated by fires.

(With inputs from AP)

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Published: 04 Feb 2024, 06:31 AM IST
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