Extreme Wildfires Kill at Least 122 in Chile, Hundreds Missing
Firefighters in Chile are battling intense forest fires while the country mourns the 122 people who have been killed in the blazes, reported The Associated Press.
“The wind was terrible, the heat scorching. There was no respite,” said local builder Pedro Quezada, while standing in the ruins of his home in the Valparaiso region, as reported by Reuters.
The fires gained strength and momentum on Friday, reaching the tourist cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar.
Entire neighborhoods in Viña del Mar were destroyed, along with the vehicles of residents who sifted through the scorched remnants of their homes.
“From one moment to the next, the fire reached the botanical park. In 10 minutes the fire was already on us,” said Jesica Barrios, a resident of Viña del Mar whose home was destroyed by the fires, as The Guardian reported. “There was smoke, the sky turned black, everything was dark. The wind felt like a hurricane. It was like being in hell.”
Undersecretary of the Interior Manuel Monsalve said on Sunday night that there were 165 active fires, an increase from 154 the previous day. Areas most affected by the blazes were under a curfew of 9 p.m.
Monsalve said cloudy conditions and temperatures that were a little cooler could assist authorities in extinguishing the fires.
“It is Chile as a whole that suffers and mourns our dead,” President Gabriel Boric said, addressing the nation in a televised broadcast, as reported by Reuters. “We are facing a tragedy of very great magnitude.”
The military was called in to help firefighters as helicopters tried to put out the fires from the air.
On Sunday, Monsalve said roughly 14,000 homes had been damaged in the areas surrounding Quilpué and Viña del Mar.
“The sky was black,’’ said Regina Figueroa, a resident of a community outside Viña del Mar, as The New York Times reported. “You couldn’t see anything. Everyone was screaming, shouting instructions, wailing into the wind.”
“I couldn’t believe we were alive. But we were the lucky ones,” Figueroa said. “I lost my mother-in-law, my sister-in law.”
The wildfires were the most severe natural disaster in Chile since an earthquake in 2010 that killed 521 people.
“We are together, all of us, fighting the emergency. The priority is to save lives,” Boric said, as reported by Reuters.