Forest fires in central Chile have claimed at least 51 lives, with the death toll expected to rise, according to authorities on Saturday. Emergency services are engaged in a fierce battle against the flames, which pose a significant threat to urban areas. The Valparaiso region, housing nearly one million people, is witnessing widespread black smoke, and firefighting efforts involving helicopters and trucks are underway.
The coastal tourist city of Vina del Mar is among the severely affected areas, making rescue operations challenging. Interior Minister Carolina Toha mentioned that five bodies were found on public roads, and the death toll is anticipated to increase substantially in the coming hours. Valparaiso is in a critical condition, marking the country’s most severe disaster since the 2010 earthquake that claimed about 500 lives.
President Gabriel Boric, in a televised address, acknowledged the gravity of the situation, describing it as “really very difficult.” Wildfires are not uncommon in Chile during the summer months, and the current crisis follows last year’s record heat wave that resulted in 27 casualties and affected over 400,000 hectares.
While the area impacted by the wildfires is smaller than last year, the rapid multiplication of affected hectares is a significant concern. The affected area increased from 30,000 to 43,000 hectares between Friday and Saturday. Authorities express heightened worry as some active fires approach urban areas, posing a substantial threat to people, homes, and facilities.
Chile faces a formidable challenge in containing the escalating forest fires, with emergency services stretched to their limits. The situation underscores the urgency of coordinated efforts to safeguard lives and property amid the unfolding disaster.