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Chile's Central Forest Fire: 46 Death, Toll Expected to Climb

A view shows crashed vehicles following the spread of wildfires in Vina del Mar, Chile(REUTERS)

In a devastating turn of events, at least 46 people have lost their lives in the raging forest fires that have engulfed central Chile, as confirmed by President Gabriel Boric on Saturday. The grim situation has prompted a somber warning that the death toll is likely to climb further.

The Valparaiso region, home to nearly one million inhabitants, is shrouded in black smoke as the fires intensify. Firefighters, armed with helicopters and trucks, are engaged in a relentless struggle to quell the flames, particularly in areas surrounding the coastal tourist city of Vina del Mar, which has borne the brunt of the devastation. Rescue teams are facing challenges reaching all affected areas, further complicating the crisis, according to Chilean authorities.

President Boric, addressing the nation, revealed that 40 people perished directly in the fires, while an additional six succumbed to burns in hospitals. Expressing the severity of the tragedy, Boric acknowledged the likelihood of an increase in the number of victims in the coming hours, emphasizing the exceptionally difficult situation at hand.

This forest fire outbreak marks the deadliest in Chile in the past decade, according to the Chilean disaster agency Senapred. Across the country, 92 active fires are reported, with more than 43,000 hectares affected, as stated by Interior Minister Carolina Toha. The rapid multiplication of impacted hectares is a concerning development.

While wildfires are not uncommon in Chile during the summer months, the current situation is exacerbated by the proximity of active fires to urban areas. Toha highlights the authorities' greatest concern, emphasizing the high potential for fires to impact people, homes, and facilities.

The unfolding crisis mirrors the severity of last year's wildfires, fueled by a record heat wave, which claimed 27 lives and affected over 400,000 hectares. Despite the area with fires being smaller this year, the accelerated spread poses an imminent threat, underscoring the urgent need for coordinated efforts to mitigate the impact on both lives and property

Feb. 5, 2024 1:53 p.m. 2312

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