Vehicles and houses burn during a fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, on Friday night. A huge mushroom cloud of smoke hung over tourist areas in central Chile, including Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, where a forest fire broke out on Friday, threatening hundreds of homes and forcing residents to evacuate. | JAVIER TORRES/AFP/METSUL METEOROLOGY
Chilean firefighters were battling rapidly expanding forest fires on Saturday, which authorities fear have claimed around 10 lives and threatened hundreds of homes, prompting the Chilean president to declare a state of emergency for catastrophe in the Valparaíso region. Authorities also announced a curfew in Viña del Mar.
About a dozen fires have occurred since Friday. The fires are concentrated in the tourist regions of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso, where they have devastated thousands of hectares of forest, enveloped coastal cities in a dense cloud of smoke and forced people to flee their homes.
“We have preliminary information that several people have died, around 10,” said Sofia Gonzales Cortes, state deputy for the central region of Valparaíso. In the cities of Estrella and Navidad, southwest of the capital, fires burned almost 30 houses and forced evacuations near the surf resort of Pichilemu.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Yvonne Guzman, 63, told AFP. As flames began to approach her home in Quilpue, she fled with her elderly mother, only to be stuck in traffic for hours. “It is very distressing, because we evacuated the house, but we cannot move forward. There are all these people trying to get out and they can’t move,” she said.
The fires are concentrated in the tourist regions of Vina del Mar and Valparaíso, where they have devastated thousands of hectares of forest. On Friday, Chilean President Gabriel Boric declared a “state of emergency due to catastrophe to have all the necessary resources” to fight the fires.
“All forces are mobilized in the fight against the forest fires,” he said in a message published on the social media platform X. Emergency services were scheduled to meet on Saturday morning to assess the situation.
Around 7,000 hectares have already been burned in Valparaíso alone, according to CONAF, Chile’s national forest authority, which classified the fires as “extreme”. Footage filmed by stranded drivers went viral online, showing burning mountains at the end of the famous “Route 68”, a road used by thousands of tourists to reach beaches on the Pacific coast.
On Friday, authorities closed the road linking Valparaíso to the capital Santiago because a huge mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke “reduced visibility”. The fires enveloped Valparaíso in a thick mushroom cloud of smoke.
The fires are caused by a heat wave and drought affecting the southern part of South America, with the contribution of the climate phenomenon El Niño, while scientists warn that the warming of the planet has increased the risk of natural disasters, such as intense heat and fires. While Chile and Colombia struggle with the effects of high temperatures, the heat wave also hits Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.
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