Tue | Mar 28, 2023

Five dead in Chile amid struggle to contain raging wildfires

Published:Friday | February 3, 2023 | 5:22 PM
A dead horse lies on the dried lakebed of the Aculeo Lagoon during a drought in Paine, Chile, December 22, 2022. The lagoon dried up several years ago. (AP Photo/Matias Basualdo, File)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — At least five people have died as a result of the more than 150 wildfires burning across Chile that have destroyed homes and thousands of acres of forests while the South American country is in the midst of a scorching heat wave.

The deaths all took place in the Biobío region, around 560 kilometres (348 miles) south of the capital of Santiago. Four of the deaths occurred in two separate vehicles.

“In one case they were burned because they were hit by the fire,” Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said. In the other case, she added, they suffered an accident, “probably trying to escape the fire.”

The fifth victim was a firefighter who was run over by a fire truck while combatting the blaze in the area.

As of early afternoon Friday, there were 151 active wildfires throughout Chile, including 65 that were under control. The fires have blazed through more than 14,000 hectares (34,595 acres).

Most of the wildfires are taking place in Biobío and neighbouring Ñuble, where the government has declared states of catastrophe that allows greater coordination with the military and the suspension of certain constitutional rights.

The heatwave hitting Chile is set to continue with high temperatures and strong winds that could make combating the wildfires more challenging.

President Gabriel Boric suspended his vacation to travel to the affected areas on Friday and said there is “evidence” that some of the wildfires were sparked by unauthorised burnings.

“The full force of the state will be deployed to, first of all, fight the fires and to accompany all the victims,” Boric said.

It remains unclear how many homes, and other structures, have been burned.

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