Forest Fires Kill Over 100 in Chile

( – Chilean authorities have warned that while at least 112 people are known to have been killed as a result of the wildfires that have torn through the country in recent days, that number could well rise. Hundreds of people are currently missing, and with entire neighborhoods destroyed by the fires, it is feared that more bodies are yet to be found. Chile’s President Gabriel Boric, who declared two days of national mourning from Monday, February 5th, called it a “tragedy of very great magnitude.”

The fires represent the worst disaster Chile has seen since an earthquake in 2010 killed 500 people, and swept through large parts of the Valparaiso region in central Chile, damaging an estimated 14,000 homes and displacing around 40,000 people. High temperatures and powerful winds were initially blamed for the fires, but the National Defense chief, Daniel Muñoz, later said that the preliminary evidence showed that the fires may have been deliberately set. Several reports of arson have been made to the authorities, and two individuals were arrested on suspicion of setting the fire that killed four people in the Viña del Mar botanical garden, but they were later released due to insufficient evidence.

President Boric has declared a state of emergency and vowed to make every necessary resource available to the fire-fighting and disaster relief efforts. Approximately 1,400 firefighters were deployed in the affected areas on Sunday, February 4th alone, and military personnel have also been directed to assist emergency services in their work. The country’s health ministry has called for elective surgeries to be postponed and authorized the creation of temporary field hospitals to treat the wounded, with medical students nearing the end of their studies to be drafted in to help staff the area’s health services.

A 9 p.m. curfew was also put in place in the worst-affected areas, with the government claiming that this would help emergency services reach their destinations and help people more effectively. Senate President Juan Colomo added that national security was currently at risk by organized criminals, but that the government’s response to the crisis would help to restore “calm” to the nation.

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