Death Tolls Rise as Forest Fires Spread in Chile

( – More than 100 people have died in forest fires in Chile. Firefighters are struggling to contain the blazes that broke out in the center of the country on February 2, with the city of Viña del Mar severely affected. A botanical garden constructed in 1931 was destroyed, and authorities say at least 1,600 people have lost their homes. A further 200 are missing and unaccounted for. Drone footage shows entire neighborhoods in Viña del Mar reduced to ash.

Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaíso region, said he believes the fires were started deliberately, and the country’s President Gabriel Boric agrees.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously. We will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible,” Mr. Mundaca said. By Monday, February 5, 161 separate blazes were raging, and authorities warned that the death toll would rise.

President Gabriel Boric declared a state of emergency and promised to deploy the nation’s military to the worst affected areas and make all national resources available to aid those who lost homes and property. He also declared two days of mourning for the dead.

Some reports describe the fires as the worst to hit Chile since the “mega-fires” of 2017, which destroyed 518,174 hectares. The Maule Region was worst affected at that time, losing 54% of its territory. Those blazes also broke out in January, but the death toll was much lower, at 11. Then-President Michelle Bachelet canceled international engagements and increased the nation’s firefighting budget by a multiple of five.

While some government figures believe the latest fires were started deliberately, meteorologists and climate experts say temperatures are soaring in the region, making it far more vulnerable – A record temperature of 41.6 centigrade was measured in February. Fire chiefs have furthermore stated that poor response planning has meant much more land was lost than was necessary. They called for improved response planning and more resources.

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