Massive forest fires in central Chile have prompted officials to extend curfews in heavily affected cities, where at least 112 people have lost their lives since the fires started two days ago. The city of Vina del Mar, renowned for its botanical garden and hosting a popular music festival, witnessed intense flames that destroyed neighborhoods, leaving 1,600 people homeless. The eastern edge of Vina del Mar faced significant damage, with 200 people reported missing in the city and surrounding areas.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric visited Quilpe, another heavily affected town, reporting 64 casualties and declaring two days of national mourning. The Forensic Medicine Service later updated the death toll to 112, with concerns that the number could rise as rescue workers continue searching through collapsed homes. Rodrigo Mundaca, governor of the Valparaiso region, suggested that some fires might have been intentionally caused, echoing a theory mentioned by President Boric.
The fires initially started in challenging mountainous and forested areas but expanded into densely populated neighborhoods despite authorities’ efforts to control the flames. Evacuation orders were issued for affected areas, while those farther from the fires were advised to stay at home to facilitate emergency response efforts. Curfews were implemented in Vina del Mar, Quilpe, and Villa Alemana to prevent looting.
The fires coincided with a week of record-high temperatures in central Chile, exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern, leading to droughts and elevated temperatures in Western South America over the past two months. The situation underscores the challenges posed by extreme weather events and the need for coordinated responses to mitigate their impact on communities.