Chile Forest Fires: At Least 112 Dead; Emergency Declared

Chile is experiencing a dry spell, with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius.

Locals walk among burnt cars in Chile. Photo: AP

The death toll from the deadly wildfires that swept across Chile's Pacific Coast has risen to at least 112, according to local authorities. Hundreds of people are still missing, and officials warn that the number of casualties could increase rapidly.

President Gabriel Boric announced a state of emergency and pledged to mobilise "all necessary resources" to address the crisis.

“It was more like a nuclear bomb than a fire,” Omar Castro Vázquez, a 72-year-old resident whose house was destroyed, told the New York Times. “There’s nothing left.”

Chile, experiencing a dry spell with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius, faces an exacerbated crisis. The South American nation, sharing borders with Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, is now contending with the aftermath of one of the most devastating wildfire incidents in its recent history.

There are 161 active fires across the country, Álvaro Hormazábal, who is the director of the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service, told CNN. 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 on 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.

The health ministry has issued a health alert in Valparaíso, urging the suspension of elective surgeries and authorising the establishment of temporary field hospitals.

Additionally, the ministry announced the hiring of medicine students nearing the end of their studies to ease the pressures on the health service.

The fires erupted as many were on summer vacations in Viña del Mar, a city of roughly 330,000, and swept through the smaller neighbouring cities of Quilpué, Limache, and Villa Alemana. 

Several thousand hectares have burned in Valparaiso alone, according to CONAF, the Chilean national forest authority.

In addition to Valparaiso, firefighters and emergency services personnel were battling blazes in the centre and south of Chile, including O'Higgins, Maule, Biobio, La Araucania, and Los Lagos.