At least 23 people have died as result of wildfires in Chile
5 February, 2023 | Pragati Singh
A blistering summer heat wave hinders efforts to contain flames that have claimed at least 23 lives in Chile.
A blistering summer heat wave hinders efforts to contain flames that have claimed at least 23 lives in Chile, prompting the government to extend an emergency decree to another region on Saturday. According to an official briefing later Saturday, more than 1,100 people have sought refuge in shelters, and at least 979 individuals have been reported injured by the raging fires.
The most recent emergency declaration covers the southern part of Araucania, which is located around the middle of the South American country’s lengthy Pacific coastline, as well as the previously proclaimed Biobio and Nuble regions.
“Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out (the fires) that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha told reporters at a news conference in the capital Santiago.
“We need to reverse that curve,” she added, stressing that 76 new fires had started on Friday. According to police, another 16 fires started on Saturday as local temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere summer surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius).
According to police, another 16 fires started on Saturday as local temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere summer surpassed 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius). The three thinly populated districts covered by the emergency orders are home to many farms, notably those growing grapes, apples, and berries for export, as well as vast tracts of forest land.
On Saturday, officials told reporters that the governments of Spain, the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela had given assistance, including planes and firefighters. According to officials, an emergency-support helicopter crashed in La Araucania on Friday, killing the pilot and a technician. Authorities reported that 11 of the fatalities, or over half of those killed, died in the village of Santa Juana in Biobio, about 310 miles (500 kilometres) south of Santiago.
Since late last week, helicopters have dropped fire retardant over roaring fires, obstructing roadways with billowing clouds of smoke. Firefighters and local citizens are battling the flames against the backdrop of an orange-tinged sky. The orders authorise the deployment of soldiers and additional resources in response to the natural calamity.
According to official data provided late Friday, the flames had burned 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres), an area larger than the city of Philadelphia in the United States. The national forestry agency CONAF said on Saturday that 80 of the 231 total wildfires are actively being fought, with 151 of them under control.
According to officials, more over 90% of the wildfires were put out before they expanded beyond 12 acres (5 hectares). However, for those unfortunate enough to become involved in one of the uncontrolled wildfires, rapid evacuation was the only alternative.
“I left with what I had on,” said Carolina Torres, who fled from an approaching fire near the city of Puren, in the region of Araucania.
“I think everyone here did the same thing because the winds shifted and you just had to grab everything right away.”
President Gabriel Boric cut short his summer vacation on Friday to visit Nuble and Biobio, promising to provide all essential assistance to the affected areas. Boric also mentioned “signs” that some fires were purposely caused, but provided no further specifics.