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Extreme heat drives Chile wildfires leaving at least 64 dead

Updated: 2024-02-05 02:42

A man clears the remains of burned houses, following the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile on Feb 4, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

VIA DEL MAR - Wildfires blazing in central Chile have now killed at least 64 people and the toll will keep rising, President Gabriel Boric said on Sunday as the disaster left bodies in the streets and homes gutted.

Authorities warned "complicated" conditions as they battled fires in the coastal tourist region of Valparaiso amid an intense summer heat wave, with temperatures soaring to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) over the weekend.

"We can sadly confirm that there are 64 deaths," Boric said from Quilpue, outside the hard-hit city of Vina del Mar.

"The figure is going to rise. We know it is going to increase in a significant way," he added, saying it was the country's deadliest disaster since a 2010 earthquake and tsunami that killed 500 people.

Boric has declared a state of emergency, pledging government support to help people get back on their feet after he flew over the affected area in a helicopter Saturday afternoon.

According to the national disaster service, SENAPRED, nearly 26,000 hectares (64,000) acres had been burned across the central and southern regions by Sunday.

SENAPRED chief Alvaro Hormazabal said firefighters were battling 34 blazes as of Sunday morning, with 43 others under control.

Weather "conditions are going to continue to be complicated," Hormazabal said.

Authorities imposed had a curfew beginning at 9:00 pm Saturday (0000 GMT Sunday), while thousands in the affected areas were ordered to evacuate their homes.

The fires are being driven by a summer heatwave and drought affecting the southern part of South America caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, as scientists warn that a warming planet has increased the risk of natural disasters such as intense heat and fires.

The rising temperatures threaten to engulf more of South America, as brigades in Argentina have been fighting a fire that has consumed more than 3,000 hectares in Los Alerces National Park, famed for its beauty and biodiversity, since January 25.


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