Chile declares a state of emergency due to raging forest fires Climate crisis news

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

Chile has declared a state of emergency as it battles wildfires spreading across the center of the country that have so far claimed at least 10 lives.

“All forces have been deployed in the fight against forest fires,” President Gabriel Buric said on X when he announced the measure, adding that emergency services would meet on Saturday to assess the situation.

The fires have devoured thousands of hectares of forest since Friday, covering coastal cities in a thick haze of gray smoke and forcing people to flee their homes in the Vina del Mar and Valparaiso regions in the center of the country.

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

“We have winds of 40 or 50 kilometers per hour,” said Leonardo Moder, director of the National Forest Foundation in Valparaiso.

He added: “These winds are strong because they carry burning leaves, branches or pieces of wood, and each of them creates a new small fire that grows into more fires.”

The fire was caused by the summer heat wave and drought affecting the southern part of South America Caused by the El Nino phenomenon A climate phenomenon, as scientists warn that the rising temperature of the planet increases the risk of natural disasters such as extreme heat and fires.

In the towns of Estrella and Navidad, southwest of the capital, fires destroyed nearly 30 homes and forced the evacuation near the surf resort of Pichilemo.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” 63-year-old Yvonne Guzman told Agence France-Presse. When the flames began approaching her home in Quilpo, she fled with her elderly mother, only to find themselves trapped in traffic for hours.

“It’s very sad 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 extinguish a fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, on February 2, 2024. A huge cloud of smoke hangs over tourist areas in central Chile, including Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, where a forest fire broke out on Friday.  Hundreds of homes were threatened and residents were forced to evacuate.  (Photo by Javier Torres/AFP)
Firefighters try to extinguish 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 Chile’s national forest authority CONAF, which described the fires as “severe.”

Pictures taken by trapped motorists have spread on the Internet, showing mountains engulfed 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, the authorities closed the road linking Valparaiso to the capital, Santiago, as a huge cloud of smoke caused “reduced visibility.”

While Chile and Colombia battle rising temperatures, a heat wave also threatens to sweep through Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the coming days.

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