Chile’s President Gabriel Boric warned that the number of victims might rise as rescue services go through the homes that have collapsed because of the flames.
At least 112 people were killed by forest fires which raged across central Chile over the past three days, as officials extended curfews in the cities most heavily affected by the blazes.
In Viña del Mar, in the Valparaiso region, the flames destroyed the city’s famous botanical garden, founded in 1931, while at least 1,600 people lost their homes. Many residents found themselves trapped by the blazes as the fires devoured several neighbourhoods on the eastern edge of the city.
According to officials, about 200 people were reported missing in Viña del Mar and the area surrounding the city, which counts 300,000 residents. The city is a popular beach resort and also hosts a well-known music festival during the southern hemisphere’s summer.
On Sunday morning, the country’s President Gabriel Boric visited the town of Quilpé, which was also heavily affected by the fires and reported 64 people killed by the blazes. Late on the same day, Chile’s Forensic Medicine Service updated the confirmed total death toll to 112 people.
The president declared two days of national mourning. “All of Chile is suffering,” Boric said. “But we will stand up once again.”
Boric warned that the number of people killed by the fires could continue rising as rescue workers search through homes that have collapsed under the flames.
The governor of the Valparaiso region, Rodrigo Mundaca, suggested on Sunday that the fires might have been intentionally caused. “These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mundaca said. “As authorities we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”
The fires began on Friday in mountainous forested areas around Viña del Mar which are hard to reach but moved on to densely populated neighbourhoods in the city despite firefighters’ efforts to stop the flames.
According to officials, the fires have already burnt through 8,000 hectares of forest and urban areas.