Hundreds Missing in Devastating Chile Fires

Death toll in central Chile hits 122
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 3, 2024 2:40 PM CST
Updated Feb 5, 2024 5:03 PM CST
Chile Struggles to Contain Fatal Forest Fires
Locals look at burnt-out houses and other debris after a forest fire reached their neighborhood in Vina del Mar, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024.   (AP Photo/ Esteban Felix)
UPDATE Feb 5, 2024 5:03 PM CST

Volunteers in central Chile tried to remove charred metal, broken glass, and other debris Monday from neighborhoods devastated over the past several days, as officials raised the death toll to 122. Hundreds of people remain missing. The fires appeared to have diminished by Monday morning after burning intensely since Friday on the eastern edge of the city of Viña del Mar, the AP reports. Two other towns in the Valparaíso region, Quilpé and Villa Alemana, also have been hit hard, and President Gabriel Boric said Sunday that at least 3,000 homes had been burnt down in the area. Viña del Mar's Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said that at least 370 people have been reported missing in the city of about 300,000 residents.

Feb 3, 2024 2:40 PM CST

Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have left at least 19 people dead and destroyed about 1,100 homes, officials said Saturday. Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said there were currently 92 forest fires burning in the center and south of the country, where temperatures have been unusually high this week, the AP reports. The deadliest of the fires were occurring in the region of Valparaíso, where authorities urged people not to leave their homes so that fire engines, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles can transit with greater ease.

Tohá said two fires near the towns of Quilpué and Villa Alemana had burned through at least 19,770 acres since Friday. One of the fires was threatening the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar, where some neighborhoods have already been badly affected. In Villa Independencia, a hillside neighborhood on the eastern edge of town, several blocks of homes and businesses were destroyed. Burned-out cars lined the streets, which were covered in ashes. Rolando Fernández, who lost his home, said he first saw the fire burning on a nearby hill on Friday afternoon. Within 15 minutes, the area was engulfed in flames and smoke, forcing everyone to run for their lives. "I've worked my whole life, and now I'm left with nothing," Fernández said.

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Three shelters have been set up in the Valparaíso region, and 19 helicopters and more than 450 firefighters had been brought in to control the blazes, Tohá said. Rescue teams were struggling to reach the most heavily affected neighborhoods. The fires are burning on mountains that are hard to reach and have affected neighborhoods that were built precariously on the edge of Viña del Mar. Tohá said that in Valparaíso, four hospitals had to be evacuated as well as three nursing homes for the elderly. The El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and higher-than-usual temperatures along the west of South America this year, increasing the risk of forest fires.

(More Chile stories.)

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