5 dead in Chile amid struggle to contain raging wildfires

A dead horse lies on the dried lakebed of the Aculeo Lagoon in Paine, Chile
A dead horse lies on the dry lakebed of the Aculeo Lagoon in drought-stricken Paine, Chile, on Dec. 22, 2022.
(Matias Basualdo / Associated Press)

At least five people have died as a result of more than 150 wildfires burning across Chile that have destroyed homes and thousands of acres of forest amid a scorching heat wave.

The deaths all took place in the Biobio region, about 350 miles south of the capital, Santiago. Four of the deaths occurred in two 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, the victims suffered an accident, “probably trying to escape the fire.”


The fifth victim was a firefighter who was run over by a firetruck while battling the blaze in the area.

As of early afternoon Friday, there were 151 active wildfires throughout Chile, 65 of which were under control. The fires have scorched more than 34,595 acres.

Most of the wildfires are in Biobio and neighboring Nuble, where the government has declared a state of catastrophe that allows greater coordination with the military and the suspension of certain constitutional rights.

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The heat wave in Chile — it is summertime in the Southern Hemisphere — 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 unauthorized 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.

“Families are having a very difficult time,” Ivonne Rivas, the mayor of Tome in Biobio, told a local radio station. “It’s hell what they are living through; the fire got away from us.”

The wildfires caused the suspension of a highly anticipated announcement by forensic experts who were expected to give the cause of death half a century ago of Nobel-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

The experts were set to give their view on whether Neruda died of complications from prostate cancer or whether he was poisoned, potentially settling one of the great mysteries of post-coup Chile. Neruda died in 1973.

The doctor in charge of delivering the report’s findings was unable to connect to the internet because he is in a region that has been affected by the wildfires, a spokesman for the country’s judiciary said.