Forest fires that have ravaged the coastal hills of central Chile since Friday have killed at least 46 people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, with many more feared dead, according to the national government.
Fires are encroaching on Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, two cities that form a vast region home to more than a million people on Chile’s central coast, about 75 miles northeast of the capital, Santiago.
Shortly after noon, President Gabriel Boric flew over the government area by helicopter and said he had been working to “secure the largest resources” in Chile’s history to fight fires during the country’s fire season, which typically strike during summer and summer in the Southern Hemisphere. reaches its peak in February.
“I assure you that we will be there as a government to help you recover,” he wrote on the social media platform will increase”.
President Boric issued a constitutional decree on Friday evening granting his government additional powers to fight fires.
The fires in Chile come as Colombia is also battling fires in the mountains around Bogotá, the capital, while dozens of other fires have burned across the country, in what officials say is the warmest January in three decades. Climatologists have linked extreme drought and forest fires to the warming trends plaguing South America.
Several Chilean agencies, as well as the country’s air force, deployed 92 planes to fly over the fires while dropping water. The government has also issued a steady stream of evacuation warnings, mixed with calls for calm.
Makeshift shelters and support centers have sprung up in several cities, with local authorities asking for donations of drinking water, mattresses, blankets and food.
The Ministry of the Interior imposed a curfew on Saturday at 9pm in Viña del Mar and several nearby cities.
On Saturday morning, Chilean Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said a 17-year-old girl was among the victims.
Ms. Tohá warned that the death toll could rise once authorities gain access to affected areas. She added that 92 fires are still burning nationwide – 29 of which are still burning and 40 have been brought under control – with more than 160 square miles of land already ravaged by fires.
The mayor of Viña del Mar, Macarena Ripamonti, said that in addition to the confirmed victims, 249 people are missing.
Eight areas of the city were evacuated, including patients in a hospital.
This January was the second warmest on record in Santiago; the hottest period was 2017, a year also affected by the meteorological phenomenon El Niño, which typically brings high temperatures and heavy rains to the Pacific coast of South America.
As fires strike central and southern Chile every summer, Chile’s national forestry commission regional director for Valparaíso, Leonardo Moder, said one of the fires appeared to have been set deliberately and was heading towards Viña del Mar.
The Valparaíso city council has launched a criminal investigation, officials said.