Firefighters are struggling with massive wildfires that started in central Chile on Friday. Authorities have prolonged curfews in the cities that have been hit the hardest by the fires and have reported a death toll of at least 99 people.
The fires in the vicinity of Viña del Mar have been at their most severe, resulting in the devastation of a botanical garden established in 1931. This has left approximately 1,600 individuals without housing.
Flames and smoke on the eastern edge of the city have trapped some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort.
Reuters captured aerial footage with a drone in the Vina del Mar region, revealing entire communities devastated by fire. Residents were seen sifting through the remains of their homes, with collapsed corrugated iron roofs. Burnt cars were also scattered on the streets.
On Sunday, Rodrigo Mundaca, the leader of Valparaíso, stated his belief that certain fires may have been deliberately started. This echoes a theory mentioned by President Gabriel Boric on Saturday.
Mundaca stated that the fires originated from four separate locations at the same time. He also emphasized the need for thorough investigation by authorities to identify the responsible party.
According to the Legal Medical Service of Chile, a government agency responsible for determining cause of death, 99 individuals have lost their lives in the fires, and 32 of the deceased have been identified.
The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.
According to Boric, the wildfires in central Chile have been challenging to contain due to abnormally high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds on Saturday. These conditions have already caused the destruction of 8,000 hectares of both forest and urban areas.
Authorities are urging individuals in impacted regions to swiftly evacuate their residences, while those who are farther from the blazes are advised to remain indoors to assist with the movement of emergency vehicles.
Curfews have been imposed in Viña del Mar and the surrounding cities of Quilpué and Villa Alemana in an attempt to deter looting.
The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.
In collaboration with Reuters and Associated Press.