Santiago de Chile, Feb 3 (EFE).- A state of emergency has been declared in Chile as devastating forest fires sweep through central regions, leaving several people feared dead and destroying thousands of hectares of forestland.
President Gabriel Boric has mobilized all available forces to combat the fires, with emergency services set to assess the catastrophic situation on Saturday.
The forest fires have destroyed thousands of hectares of forestland throwing a dense fog of smoke in the central regions of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, 100 km east of Santiago.
Interior Minister Carolina Tohá indicated an unconfirmed number of victims, with reports varying between 10 and 16 people dead. “We have different data, some reports speak of 10 people, others of 16. But we will have a more consolidated number (by Saturday morning).”
Tohá said an estimated 1,000 homes were affected, announcing a curfew from 8:00 a.m. local time to noon on Saturday in several towns in Valparaíso to speed up the arrival of emergency services and avoid unnecessary travel.
The towns of Quilpué, Villa Alemana, El Olivar, and the Chacao Canal, surrounding the coastal city of Viña del Mar, are among the worst affected areas.
“We are facing an unprecedented catastrophe,” Viñamarina mayor Macarena Ripamonti said.
President Boric declared a state of emergency at midnight, granting swift mobilization of resources to combat the fires, exacerbated by one of the most intense heatwaves in recent years, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius in central areas.
“The situation of forest fires, especially in the 5th region, is very difficult due to the temperatures and winds… I have also decided to declare a state of emergency due to a catastrophe to have all the necessary resources,” the president said.
Given the simultaneous nature of the fires, Minister Tohá raised suspicions of intentional acts and warned of continued high temperatures and strong winds over the weekend, posing a continued threat.
The fires recall the deadliest wave experienced by Chile last year, resulting in 27 deaths and the destruction of numerous homes in central-southern regions.
Experts attribute such incidents to rising temperatures and a forestry model focused on monoculture of pine and eucalyptus.
Despite recent wet winters, concerns persist as specialists warn of ongoing drought conditions and the potential for easily combustible vegetation in the south-central region of Chile. EFE