Deadly fires in Chile, more than 100 dead

Chile continues to fight deadly fires. The number of deaths recorded in the Valparaíso region, 100 kilometers east of Santiago, is 112, authorities reported in the late hours of Monday (February 5, 2024), after days before the Chilean president, Gabriel Borich, warned that they would increase "in the next few hours".

This is the deadliest fire ever recorded in Chile. Deputy Minister Manuel Monsalve said Sunday night that the Interior Ministry raised the death toll to 112 and said health authorities had identified 32 bodies.

Hundreds of families lost everything: the fire completely destroyed their properties and homes. Marcela, one of those affected, tells and shows the immense magnitude of the devastation on Chilean television. “It was like an atomic bomb”he said between two black walls that are still standing. There was nothing on the floor but a pile of metal plates, and only his oven had not completely burned down. “There were big flames in the street. Neighbors burned and died trying to escape", he added.

Chile mourns deadly fires

Chile declared two days of national mourning after deadly fires affected several urban areas in the Valparaíso region on the central coast. Top authorities in the Valparaíso region ordered an investigation into the deaths, as many people were reported missing to police. “There are still 190 people missing in Viña del Mar“Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said at a press conference.

"We know that this number (of victims) will increase”, emphasized the Chilean president on national television from the presidential palace of La Moneda, clearly impressed.

Interior Minister Caroline Toja reiterated that the death toll could be “significantly higher" As time goes by: "There remains a large part of the territory that is out of our reach, which is why we do not have a complete study of the number of victims.", he added.

deadly fires

Boric asks to answer evacuation calls

"It is the greatest tragedy that we have experienced as a country since the earthquake of February 27, 2010."said the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric.

Borich asked people in affected areas to respond to warnings received on mobile phones: “We need everyone's help. When you receive an evacuation call, you must react immediately because the fire is spreading at very high speed: if you receive a text message, you must evacuate. All decisions are made by experts in the field".

"I want to reiterate the call that, when told to evacuate, do not hesitate. The fire is advancing very quickly and the weather conditions we have had have made fighting fires much more complicated: high temperatures; strong winds, average of 30 kilometers per hour with gusts of up to 60, and also low humidity”said President Monsalve.

This wave of deadly forest fires is the deadliest in history, almost double that of last year, which broke the record for deaths (27 people).

The fires surprised everyone

Rosana Avendaño, a 63-year-old kitchen assistant, was outside her house when the fire began to consume El Olivar, one of the neighborhoods of Viña del Mar where she lived with her husband and pets.

"It was terrible because I couldn't get (to my house). The fire came here (…) we lost everything. My husband was lying down and he started to feel the heat of the fire coming and he ran away."said the woman.

Avendaño did not hear from him until that Saturday, for hours he feared the worst. Finally, his pet was also saved from the fire.

In addition to the loss of life, the deputy minister said the deadliest fires of the last decade have destroyed some 15000 homes.

Climate change as responsible

The high temperatures of recent days also made the incident extremely serious. When the fire broke out on Friday, February 2, temperatures in the Valparaíso region exceeded 33 degrees. Forecasters described temperatures in this coastal area as unusually high for this time of year. Additionally, the humidity is lower than normal.

Wind gusts of up to 80 km/h were also recorded in the affected areas, which contributed to the spread of the fire. Additionally, the Valparaíso region is characterized by many hills and valleys whose terrain causes faster winds.

The last factor that explains these deadly fires is the population density in the affected areas. Experts say some of the burned areas are densely populated and lack proper planning and communication. They also do not have retaining walls. Furthermore, the infrastructure does not help either: many houses in these areas are unstable and are built with lightweight materials or flammable wood.

deadly fires

global climate

A heat wave with maximum temperatures is overwhelming the Southern American Cone these days, where the natural climate phenomenon of El Niño is exacerbated by global warming caused by human activity, according to specialists.

But this is not from now, Chile has been fighting against drought for about 14 years, mainly affecting the central part of the country. It is in this area where the Valparaíso region suffered the greatest damage from these deadly fires. The cause of this water shortage is due to the prolonged lack of rain.

With information of: