Chile forest fires kill 99 as hundreds remain missing


A car lies near burnt out houses and other debris after forest fires reached Vina del Mar, Chile.
A car lies near burnt out houses and other debris after forest fires reached Vina del Mar, Chile.

Wildfires sweeping through central Chile have killed at least 99 people and hundreds are still missing as President Gabriel Boric warned the country faces a “tragedy of very great magnitude”.

Wildfires that began several days ago are menacing the outer edges of Vina del Mar and Valparaiso, two coastal cities popular with tourists. The urban sprawl of those cities accounts for more than a million residents west of the capital Santiago.

Drone footage filmed by Reuters in Vina del Mar area showed entire neighbourhoods scorched, with residents rummaging through husks of burnt-out houses where corrugated iron roofs have collapsed. On the streets, singed cars littered the roads.

Chilean authorities have introduced a 9pm curfew in the hardest-hit areas and sent in the military to help firefighters stem the spread of fires, while helicopters dumped water to try to douse the flames from the air.

Chile’s Legal Medical Service, the state coroner, said 99 people have died in the fires, with 32 bodies identified.

Earlier in the day Boric, announcing two days of national mourning starting on Monday, said Chile should prepare itself for more bad news.

A fire burns a building in an industrial area in Chile
Chile President Gabriel Boric has warned the death toll from fires will likely surge in coming days. (EPA PHOTO)

“It is Chile as a whole that suffers and mourns our dead,” Boric said in a televised speech to the nation. “We are facing a tragedy of very great magnitude.”

Hundreds of people also have been reported missing, authorities said. More than 1000 homes have been damaged. Officials on Saturday said more than 90 fires were raging across Chile.

Although wildfires are not uncommon during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, the lethality of these blazes stands out, making them the country’s worst national disaster since the 2010 earthquake in which about 500 people died.

Last year, on the back of a record heat wave, some 27 people died and more than 400,000 hectares of land were affected.

Boric has sought to channel funds to the hardest-hit areas, many of which are popular with tourists.

“We are together, all of us, fighting the emergency. The priority is to save lives,” Boric said.