Photo: Javier Torres Agence France-Presse Firefighters have been fighting tirelessly since Friday against dozens of homes in the regions of Valparaiso and O'Higgins in the center, but also Maule, Biobio, La Araucania and Los Lagos, in the South.
Paula Bustamante – Agence France-Presse respectively in Viña del Mar and Santiago
February 4, 2024
The violent fires ravaging the tourist coastal region of Valparaiso in central Chile have left at least 112 dead, a toll that is likely to rise on Monday as firefighters continue to battle around forty outbreaks active.
Entire residential areas devastated, charred cars, nearly 26,000 hectares reduced to ashes… Some 1,400 firefighters and 1,300 soldiers and volunteers are preparing to fight for the fourth consecutive day against dozens of fires in the center and south of the country, according to the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (Senapred).
“We must say, with the information received from the forensic service, that there are 112 people killed, 32 bodies identified,” Manuel Monsalve, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, said Sunday evening during a a press conference, specifying that the firefighters were still fighting against around forty active outbreaks.
The previous toll given by the Forensic Medicine Service (SML) was 99 dead.
“This figure will increase, we know that it will increase significantly,” President Gabriel Boric warned earlier on Sunday during a trip to Quilpué, located on the outskirts of Viña del Mar in the Valparaiso region where all the deaths were recorded.
The mayor of the resort town of Viña del Mar, Macarena Ripamonti, and the governor of the Valparaíso region, Rodrigo Mundaca, said several hundred people were missing.
In Quilpué, an AFP team was able to see entire neighborhoods and cars charred. There, thousands of residents were stranded for several hours on Friday as they tried to flee by car.
“This is the biggest tragedy we have seen since the 2010 earthquake,” said Mr. Boric, referring to the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that was followed by a tsunami on February 27, 2010, which caused more than 500 deaths.
Lilian Rojas, a 67-year-old retiree, lived near the botanical garden in the resort town of Viña del Mar, one of the worst-hit areas. “There’s not a single house left here,” she said, amid the rubble and ashes.
She says the fire surprised everyone within minutes. “I went outside to look and people were already running. I left my house, closed the door and left,” describes the retiree, showing her pink dress: “It’s the only thing I have left. »
Rodrigo Pulgar, a driver, lost his home in El Olivar, in the hills of Valparaiso.
“It was hell, explosions. I tried to help my neighbor turn off his car, my house was starting to burn behind. It was a rain of ashes,” he said.
In order to limit traffic in the affected areas “and to facilitate relief operations for victims and recovery of the dead”, a new curfew has been established in four municipalities of Valparaiso, from 6 p.m. local time to 10 a.m. local time Monday.
Encouraging weather conditions
The weather conditions of the last few hours seem more favorable, said the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Tohá, describing a phenomenon typical of the Pacific coast which produces many clouds, high humidity and therefore lower temperatures.
“Current conditions are more conducive to caring for victims and controlling fires,” she added.
The Las Tablas fire, the largest in the Valparaiso region, is still active, and “covers a perimeter of 80 km,” said Ms. Tohá.
Throughout the region, popular for its beaches and its wine production, 17 fire brigades and 1,300 soldiers and civilian volunteers were deployed to fight the flames and help destitute residents.
“The ravages of drought”
From Rome, after the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis called on Sunday to pray “for the dead and injured in the devastating fires in Chile.” The head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, announced on climate”.
“France expresses its full solidarity with the Chilean government and people in the face of the fires ravaging the country” and “stands ready to provide aid,” the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs also reacted on X.
Since Wednesday, the temperature has been close to 40 degrees in central Chile and the capital, Santiago.
This heatwave resulting from the El Niño climatic phenomenon is currently affecting the Southern Cone of Latin America, in the middle of summer, causing forest fires worsened by global warming. After Chile and Colombia, the heat wave threatens Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the coming days.