Disasters & Accidents

Death toll in Chile wildfires climbs to 22

Santiago, Feb 4 (EFE).- The number of deaths attributable to the wildfires devastating areas of central and southern Chile stands at 22, while 16 other victims are in critical condition, the government said Saturday.

“We have at this moment a very tough, very painful balance of 22 people dead,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha said, adding that “the numbers are changing every minute.”

The fires are concentrated in an area of intensive farming and forestry extending from 400 km (250 mi) to 700 km (435 mi) south of Santiago, comprising the regions of Ñuble, Biobio and La Araucania.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency in all three of those regions.

More than 45,000 hectares (111,000 acres) have been destroyed, according to the latest bulletin from the Interior Ministry, which put the number of active fires nationwide at 251.

Toha said the destruction from fires in the last week is equal to that usually seen in an entire year.

Roughly 1,500 people are in shelters, she said.

Central and southern Chile have endured more than 13 years of drought and are currently suffering through a record-breaking heat wave, with temperatures approaching 40 C (104 F).

The weather service said Saturday that the heat will continue until the middle of next week.

Toha said Chile has requested help from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Spain to battle the blazes, minutes before President Gabriel Boric posted a message on social media thanking Argentine counterpart Alberto Fernandez for agreeing to send personnel and equipment.

“I just finished talking with President Fernandez to coordinate and express appreciation for the support of the Argentine Republic in fighting the fires. Besides firefighters, we will receive machinery,” Boric wrote on Twitter.

Chilean diplomatic sources told EFE that other countries have also pledged to provide assistance. EFE jm-mmm/dr

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