Chile’s state of emergency expands as forest fire deaths rise | Weather news

At least 23 people have died in forest fires in Chile.

Chile has extended a state of emergency to another region as firefighters battle dozens of wildfires that have killed at least 23 people.

The latest emergency order on Saturday covers the southern region of Araucania, in addition to the previously declared regions of Biobio and Nuble, located near the middle of the South American country’s long Pacific coast.

This measure allows the government to mobilize the military to help fight the fires.

“Weather conditions made extinguishing very difficult [the fires] which are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha told reporters at a press conference in the Chilean capital, Santiago.

“We have to turn that curve,” she added.

At least 23 people died in the fires, while 979 were injured. More than 1,100 sought refuge in shelters.

About 11 victims, or nearly half of those reported killed so far, died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, located about 500 km (310 miles) south of Santiago.

Among the dead was a Bolivian pilot who died when a helicopter helping to fight the flames crashed in Araucania. A Chilean mechanic was also killed in the accident.

Firefighters try to put out a fire in Nacimiento, Concepcion province, Chile.
Members of the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) brigade fight a fire in Nacimiento, Concepcion province, Chile, on February 4, 2023. [Javier Torres/ AFP]

Some 232 wildfires were still active on Saturday, according to authorities, including 16 that broke out earlier in the day, as local temperatures in the southern hemisphere topped 40C (104F) in summer.

Chile’s disaster mitigation agency said 151 fires were now under control, while official figures released late Friday showed the fires had burned about 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres).

The three affected regions are sparsely populated and home to many farms, including those growing grapes, apples and berries for export, plus extensive forest lands.

“I left with what I had on,” said Carolina Torres, who was fleeing the approaching fire near the town of Puren in the Araucania region.

“I think everyone here did the same thing because the winds changed and you had to grab everything right away.”

Officials said the governments of Spain, the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela offered assistance, including planes and firefighters.

Toha, the interior minister, suggested the fires should serve as another wake-up call about the effects of climate change.

“We are becoming one of the [nations] the most vulnerable to fires, fundamentally due to the evolution of climate change,” she said.

“The thermometer has reached points that we did not know until now,” she added.

On Friday, President Gabriel Boric interrupted his summer vacation to travel to Nuble and Biobio, promising to ensure that the affected areas receive all the support they need.

Borić also pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been deliberately started, but did not provide any additional details.

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