Central Chile wildfires claim 122 lives, President Gabriel Boric declares state of emergency

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The death toll from the central Chile wildfires reached 122 on Monday as emergency crews discovered more bodies in the aftermath of the fires that began three days ago.

As reported by Reuters, helicopters are dropping water on the blazes, while residents, firefighters, and the military worked swiftly to clear debris in Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar, where homes were rapidly engulfed by fireballs, marking Chile’s most severe natural disaster in years.

The number of casualties was anticipated to rise as the cleanup and search for victims continued, the report noted.

Meanwhile, the Chilean National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (SENAPRED) reports a staggering 161 active wildfires spreading across the country.

President Gabriel Boric declared a state of emergency as coastal communities like Valparaiso and Vina del Mar were engulfed in smoke, resulting in casualties.

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A view of neighborhoods burn during forest fires in Vina del Mar, Chile, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Areas around Vina del Mar were among the hardest-hit by fires that broke out in central Chile three day earlier, resulting in the deaths of more than a hundred people. (AP Photo/ Esteban Felix) (AP)

In a post on X, Boric said, “I have instructed the Minister of Social Development and Family Javiera Toro Cáceres to lead the reconstruction tasks of the areas affected by the fires in the Valparaíso Region. Furthermore, in the coming days, the technical manager of the reconstruction process will be announced. With joint work, we will carry out this task!”

Residents in the central region were forced to evacuate their homes. After touring the affected areas, President Boric, in a Sunday news conference, voiced apprehension about the potential for a significant increase in the death toll. In a televised statement last week, President Boric said that the defense ministry would deploy extra military personnel to the affected regions, ensuring the provision of essential supplies.

Also Read: Chile Wildfires: Death toll rises to 112; 40 fires still active. 10 points to know

The ongoing fires have forced evacuations across various areas in central Chile. Notably, in February 2023, the country witnessed fires that consumed over 400,000 hectares and claimed the lives of more than 22 individuals.

Chile, Argentina, and other regions in the southern cone of South America are currently grappling with an intense heatwave, a phenomenon anticipated to become increasingly frequent during the southern hemisphere’s summer months, attributed to climate change, as stated by experts.

A firefighter looks up as flames spread by a forest fire engulfs buildings in Vina del Mar, Chile, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Cristobal Basaure)

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A firefighter looks up as flames spread by a forest fire engulfs buildings in Vina del Mar, Chile, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Cristobal Basaure) (AP)

The challenging weather conditions in Chile are further intensified by the El Niño weather phenomenon, characterized by the warming of the Pacific Ocean.

Jesica Barrios, who lost her home in Vina del Mar, told Reuters over the weekend that the fire had arrived “from one moment to the next”.

“The fire reached the botanical park and then in ten minutes it was already on us,” she said. “There was smoke, the sky turned black, everything was dark. The wind felt like a hurricane. It was like being in hell.”

(With inputs from agencies)

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Published: 06 Feb 2024, 12:08 PM IST

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