‘A tragedy of very great magnitude’: At least 112 killed in Chile wildfires

World

At least 99 people have been killed – and hundreds reported missing – in a series of huge wildfires in Chile.

At least 1,600 people have also been left without homes as a result of the forest fires, which have raged in the country’s central region since they started several days ago.

The fires are on the outskirts of the coastal city of Vina del Mar, located some 75 miles (122km) west of the capital Santiago and home to around 300,000 people, and nearby Valparaiso.

Several neighbourhoods on the eastern edge of Vina del Mar have already been destroyed, while 200 people have been reported missing from the city and its surrounding areas.

An areal view shows the burnt remains of houses following the spread of wildfires, in Vina del Mar, Chile February 4, 2024. REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari
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An areal view shows the burnt remains of houses following the wildfires, in Vina del Mar. Pic: Reuters

Locals clean the rubble of burnt-out houses after forest fires reached their neighborhood in Vina del Mar, Chile, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Cristobal Basaure)
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Locals clean the rubble of burnt-out houses. Pic: AP

A famous botanical garden founded in 1931 was also destroyed by the flames.

On Sunday afternoon, Chile’s Forensic Medicine Service said that at least 99 people were known to have died.

“We regret the tragedy that is unfolding, and we send our condolences to the families that have been affected,” the agency said in a statement posted on its website.

Chile's national flag flies amidst smoke and near the burnt remains of a house following the spread of wildfires, in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari
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Chile’s national flag flies amid wildfires. Pic: Reuters

On Sunday morning, Chilean President Gabriel Boric visited Quilpe, a town to the east of Vina del Mar.

He warned that the country faces a “tragedy of very great magnitude”.

Mr Boric, who has declared two days of national mourning, also warned the death toll could rise as rescue workers search through collapsed homes.

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Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaiso region, where Vina del Mar and other affected cities are located, said on Sunday he believed some of the fires could have been caused intentionally.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mr Mundaca said.

“As authorities, we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”

A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Officials say intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left several people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/ Esteban Felix)
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A resident flees an encroaching forest fire in Vina del Mar. Pic: AP

Residents evacuate on a motorcycle as smoke caused by forest fires fill the sky and flames spread into Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Officials say intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left several people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
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Residents evacuate on a motorbike. Pic: AP

Firefighters protectively spray water on homes as forest fires burn nearby, in Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Officials say intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left several people dead and destroyed hundreds of homes. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
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Firefighters spray water on homes as forest fires burn nearby. Pic: AP

The fires around Vina del Mar began in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, but moved into the city’s densely populated outer neighbourhoods, despite attempts by Chilean authorities to slow down the advancing flames.

The country is currently in the grip of a heatwave with 30C temperatures and strong winds intensifying the wildfires.

At its height, there were more than 230 wildfires.

Over the past two months, the El Nino weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires.

In January, more than 42,000 acres (17,000 hectares) of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather.

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