According to the latest bulletin from Chilean authorities Sunday, at least 112 people had been killed as wildfires kept multiplying nationwide during the weekend, particularly in the Valparaiso region. Some 40,000 people have been left homeless or displaced, it was also reported.
The severity of the fires has been boosted by prolonged dry spells and hot days resulting from the El Niño weather phenomenon that raises the temperature of the Pacific Ocean. This is the biggest emergency in Chile since the 2010 earthquake, which killed 432 people and left 2 million homeless.
Many of those affected by the fire were visiting the coastal region for the austral summer vacations. The Chilean government has asked people not to travel to the affected areas. In several communes, a curfew has been imposed.
Upon declaring a state of emergency, President Gabriel Boric Font warned that the death toll could be much higher, as hundreds of people have been reported missing as fires were spreading at an accelerated rate amid unfavorable weather conditions. In Viña del Mar alone, over 370 people were unaccounted for. He urged people to vacate their homes and follow the instructions from the relief teams. Some 1,400 firefighters were deployed to the area on Sunday, according to the Interior Ministry, and are being assisted by military personnel and thousands of volunteers.
Boric also stressed from Quilpué, one of the towns most affected by the flames, that the priorities were to save lives, put out the remaining active fires, recover bodies of deceased people, support the victims in shelters, and maintain public order while investigating the causes of the fires that seem to have been intentional given the unlikely odds of such a coincidence stemming from purely natural disasters.
It is difficult to think that there could exist such miserable and heartless people capable of generating so much death and pain but, if these people exist, we will look for them, we will find them, and they will have to face the repudiation not only of the whole society but also the full weight of the law and the law, assured Boric, who decreed two days of national mourning starting Monday.
We are facing a national tragedy. The president has decreed national mourning for two days, which shows the magnitude of the affectation that we have unfortunately faced in the region of Valparaíso, Undersecretary of the Interior Manuel Monsalve told El Mercurio. He also explained that only 32 of the victims had been identified after 38 post-mortems.
There is no imminent risk to people's lives today. It is possible to anticipate an eventual control of the fires during the next few days, but they remain active and work continues, he added as 166 fires were confirmed Sunday, with four of them having been put down and 112 under control.
Valparaíso Governor Rodrigo Mundaca ratified these fires were intentional and therefore the ensuing murders need not go unpunished.
According to the latest report from the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), there are at least seven active fires currently burning in Valparaíso, the largest of which is the Peñuelas Lake/Las Tablas Reserve, next to the main highway in the area, which has already burned nearly 9,300 hectares. This fire, together with the one in Lo Moscoso, with 1,350 hectares burned, is of particular concern because of its virulence and its proximity to densely populated areas.