Chile declares state of emergency following violent forest fires | Climate crisis news

At least 10 people died and the fire in the tourist region of Valparaiso forced many to flee their homes.

Chile has declared a state of emergency as it battles spreading wildfires in the center of the country that have so far killed at least 10 people.

“All forces are deployed in the fight against forest fires,” President Gabriel Boric posted on X when announcing the measure, specifying that emergency services would meet on Saturday to assess the situation.

Fires have ravaged thousands of hectares of forest since Friday, shrouding coastal towns in a thick haze of gray smoke and forcing residents to flee their homes in the central regions of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

At least 10 people died, according to a Valparaiso state official.

“We have winds of almost 40 or 50 km/h,” said Leonardo Moder, director of the Valparaiso National Forestry Company.

“This wind is harsh because it carries lit leaves, branches or pieces of wood, and each one creates a new small fire that turns into other fires,” he added.

The fire is caused by a summer heatwave and drought affecting southern South America. caused by El Niño weather phenomenon, with scientists warning that global warming has increased the risk of natural disasters such as intense heat and fires.

In the towns of Estrella and Navidad, southwest of the capital, fires burned nearly 30 homes and forced evacuations near the Pichilemu surf resort.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Yvonne Guzman, 63, told the AFP news agency. When the flames began closing in on her home in Quilpue, she fled with her elderly mother, only to get stuck in traffic for hours.

“It’s very painful because we evacuated the house but we can’t move forward. There are all these people trying to get out and they can’t move,” she said.

Firefighters try to put out a fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, February 2, 2024. A huge mushroom cloud of smoke hangs over tourist areas in central Chile, including Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, where a forest fire is burning. is declared on Friday.  threatening hundreds of homes and forcing the evacuation of residents.  (Photo by Javier TORRES / AFP)
Firefighters try to put out a fire in Vina del Mar, Chile, February 2, 2024 (Javier Torres/AFP)

About 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) have already been burned in Valparaiso alone, according to CONAF, Chile’s national forestry authority, which described the fires as “extreme.”

Footage filmed by stranded motorists has gone viral on the Internet, showing mountains in flames at the end of the famous Route 68, a route used by thousands of tourists to reach the beaches of the Pacific coast.

On Friday, authorities closed the road that connects Valparaiso to the capital, Santiago, because a huge mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke was “reducing visibility.”

As Chile and Colombia battle rising temperatures, the heatwave also threatens to sweep across Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the coming days.

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