The situation in Chile has taken a tragic turn as the confirmed death toll from the ongoing forest fires has now escalated to 122, as reported by SML, the organization tasked with recovering the bodies. Of these, 32 bodies have been positively identified. Furthermore, the catastrophe has rendered thousands of people homeless, thus intensifying the crisis.
The devastating fires have wreaked havoc on entire regions of the coastal towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Currently, about forty of these fires continue to burn. In response, an impressive force of approximately 1,400 firefighters, 1,300 soldiers and a multitude of volunteers, supported by thirty fire-fighting helicopters and aircraft, are battling the relentless flames.
In light of the dire situation, President Gabriel Boric has described the fires as “the greatest tragedy” to hit the country since the 2010 earthquake followed by a tsunami that claimed the lives of more than 500 people. He made a poignant statement saying, “all of Chile mourns Valparaiso” and declared two days of national mourning.
There are reports from the Chilean fire brigade in the Valparaíso region that the forest fires, which began on Friday, were purposely ignited. Firefighters have reportedly witnessed instances of fires being intentionally set while they were in the process of extinguishing them.
Pope Francis, during his address on Sunday, called for prayers for the victims of the fires in Chile, which rank among the deadliest worldwide of the 21st century. Expressing solidarity, the European Union signified its readiness to provide assistance to combat the devastation caused by the fires.
Since Wednesday, central Chile and the capital Santiago have been experiencing soaring temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
This intense heat wave, attributed to the El Niño climate phenomenon, is currently battering southern Latin America. It is peaking during the height of the summer season, resulting in forest fires that are worsened by global warming. After Chile and Colombia, the heat wave is set to pose a threat to Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil in the upcoming days.