Chile forest fires claim 22 lives so far, spreads amid heat wave

The Chilean government confirmed this Saturday that 22 people have died in the virulent disasters that have already destroyed more than 45,000 hectares in the centre and south of the country.

“The preliminary data that we have right now is 15 people who have died,” the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Tohá, said early in the day at a press conference. Then another death was confirmed and, later, another six fatalities were added. The director of the portfolio confirmed, in turn, that there are 554 injured, 16 of them seriously.

Among the victims was a firefighter who died after being struck by a fire truck while fighting the blaze. A pilot and a mechanic died while trying to fight the flames when their helicopter crashed in the southern region of Araucanía.

A wave of 191 forest fires hits Chilean territory, concentrated in the centre-south of the country when temperatures exceeded 40 degrees in some cities.

The flames have left at least 22 dead and more than 40,000 hectares burned in the Ñuble and Biobío regions, located 400 and 500 kilometres south of Santiago.

The last report released by the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (Senapred) reported that of the 251 active fires in the area, 80 are out of control.

On Friday afternoon, two brigade members also died after the crash of the helicopter with which they were trying to extinguish a fire in the Galvarino commune, in La Araucanía.

President Boric suspends his vacation

President Gabriel Boric decided to suspend his vacation and came to Concepción later in the Ñuble region.

“We are going to be carrying out patrols throughout the area. The most important thing now is to put out the fires. The State is deployed for that,” said the leftist ruler. “We are not going to leave them alone,” was the most repeated phrase of the president.

The declaration of a state of catastrophe, a state of constitutional exception, allows measures such as the provision of additional resources to control the emergency and go to the aid of those affected, restricting the use of military forces in this emergency situation.

The fires, unleashed in the midst of an extreme heat wave with records above 41ºC and in the midst of a severe and prolonged drought, are 99% caused by human responsibility.

The Prosecutor’s Office announced precisely the arrest of two people linked to the generation of fires in the Biobío and La Araucanía regions.

Unprecedented heat wave

The fires coincide with a long drought that has lasted for more than 13 years and with an unprecedented heat wave in the south, with temperatures that can reach 40 degrees Celsius in southern areas in the next few hours.

The Meteorological Directorate reported this Saturday that the heat wave will last until next Wednesday and will affect 7 of the 16 regions of the country.

The images are reminiscent of the wave of fires that hit southern Chile in 2017, the most serious to date and in which a dozen people died.

“We are becoming one of the most vulnerable territories to fires due to the advance of climate change in our territories. What seemed like an extreme situation three years ago, is getting better year after year”, lamented the minister.


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