Climate change has fueled the growth of explosive wildfires around the world with rising temperatures and drought.
An estimated seven people have died in wildfires in the South American country of Chile as the fire rages through wide swathes of forest and farmland, burning homes.
As of Friday, authorities were struggling to contain numerous wildfires that had broken out, burning more than 14,000 hectares (34,595 acres) of land across the country. The fires were exacerbated by a drought in the country that has lasted for almost 13 years, as well as a heat wave.
Many of the fires are concentrated in the Biobío region, located about 560 kilometers (348 miles) south of the capital, Santiago. Four of the deaths reported so far have occurred there, and many of the deaths involved vehicles.
“In one case, they were burned because they were hit by fire,” said Interior Minister Carolina Toha. In another case, she added, they had an accident while “probably trying to escape from the fire.”
The Associated Press also reported that a firefighter was hit by a truck while battling the flames.
The government has declared a state of disaster in Biobi and the neighboring region of Nuble, another area hit hard by the fires. Toha said the La Araucania region was also struggling to contain the fires, amid strong winds and high temperatures fueled by Chile’s waning heat wave.
On Friday, weather forecasts predicted temperatures of more than 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) in Nuble’s capital Chillan.
Hundreds of houses were reportedly damaged or destroyed, but the exact number remains uncertain.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric cut short his vacation to visit the affected areas, saying “the full force of the state will be deployed” to control the fires and help victims.
To keep homes safe and support evacuation in rural areas affected by wildfires, @Carabdechile preventive patrols continue in the regions of Ñuble and Biobío. We are facing an emergency together. pic.twitter.com/p5Y2nu0Puu
– Presidency of Chile (@Presidencia_cl) February 3, 2023
Due in part to climate change, wildfires have increased in scope, intensity and frequency as rising temperatures and drought worsen fire conditions around the world, resulting in explosive fires in places like Chile, Algeria, France, Spain and the western United States.
In late December, a forest fire near the coastal resort of Vinas Del Mar in Chile killed at least one person and destroyed more than 100 homes.
“Families are having a very difficult time,” Ivonne Rivas, mayor of Tome in the Biobío region, told a local radio station. “They are living through hell, the fire has escaped us.”