Chile wildfires spread amid heat wave as death toll rises
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chile extended an emergency declaration to yet another region on Saturday as firefighters struggled to control dozens of raging wildfires that have claimed at least 22 lives amid a scorching heat wave that has broken records.
The government declared a state of catastrophe in the La Araucanía region, which is south of Ñuble and Biobío, two central-southern regions where the emergency declaration had already been issued. The measure allows for greater cooperation with the military.
At least 22 people have died in connection to the fires and 554 have been injured, including 16 in serious condition, according to Interior Minister Carolina Tohá. The death toll is likely to rise as Tohá said there are unconfirmed reports of at least 10 people missing.
Sixteen of the deaths took place in Biobío, five in La Araucanía and one in Ñuble.
The deaths included a Bolivian pilot who died when a helicopter that was helping combat the flames crashed in La Araucanía. A Chilean mechanic also died in the crash.
Over the past week, fires have burned through an area equivalent to what is usually burned in an entire year, Tohá said in a news conference.
The fires come at a time of record high temperatures.
“The thermometer has reached points that we have never known until now,” Tohá said.
As of Saturday morning, there were 251 wildfires raging throughout Chile, 151 of which were under control, according to Chile’s Senapred disaster agency.
“Seventy-six new fires appeared yesterday,” Tohá said Saturday.
The minister also suggested the fires should serve as yet another wake up call about the effects of climate change.
“The evolution of climate change shows us again and again that this has a centrality and a capacity to cause an impact that we have to internalize much more,” Tohá said. “Chile is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change, and this isn’t theory but rather practical experience.”
Chile is requesting international cooperation to assist the firefighting efforts.
“We’re requesting support from several countries to address the emergency,” President Gabriel Boric wrote on social media.