Chile wildfires spread amid heat wave as death toll rises to 22
Chile extended an emergency declaration to another region 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 Araucania region, which is south of Nuble and Biobio, two south-central 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 with the fires and 554 have been injured, 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 Biobio, five in La Araucania and one in Nuble.
The deaths included a Bolivian pilot who died when a helicopter that was helping combat the flames crashed in La Araucania. A Chilean mechanic also died in the crash.
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Over the last week, fires have burned through an area of the country 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 amid the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.
“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.
She also suggested the fires should serve as 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.
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