Chile: At least 22 dead and state of catastrophe declared after hundreds of wildfires rage

At least 22 people have died as more than 230 wildfires rage in Chile, leaving a devastating trail of destruction.

Almost 100,000 acres of forest have been alight – with the majority of wildfires located in the regions of Biobio and neighbouring Nuble, where states of catastrophe have been declared.

More than 550 people have been hurt with 16 in a serious condition, said Chile’s Interior Minister Carolina Toha.

At least 10 people are feared missing, according to unconfirmed reports, amid concerns the death toll is set to continue rising.

Authorities say 11 people died in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, including a firefighter who was run over by a fire engine while tackling a blaze on Friday.

A resident battles flames in Santa Juana in the Biobio region

An emergency helicopter dispatched to assist crashed, killing the pilot, a Bolivian national, and a mechanic from Chile, in the Araucania region.

Araucania, just under 140 miles away from Biobio, is now also subject to an emergency order, Chile’s interior ministry announced on Saturday.

Four deaths involved two separate vehicles in Biobio, Ms Toha said.

“In one case, they were burned because they were hit by fire,” Ms Toha said.

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In the second case, the victims died in a crash, “probably trying to escape the fire”, she added.

The country is currently in the grip of a heatwave with 30C temperatures and strong winds intensifying the wildfires.

They have burned through more than 40,000 hectares – the equivalent of almost 100,000 acres, larger than the size of the US city of Philadelphia, according to Reuters.

Resident Rosa Munoz (centre) lost her home after wildfires ripped through the city of Tome, in the Biobio region Pic: AP
Resident Rosa Munoz (centre) lost her home after wildfires ripped through the city of Tome, in the Biobio region. Pic: AP
Rose Munoz walks on what is left of home in the city of Tome Pic: AP
Rose Munoz walks on what is left of home in the city of Tome. Pic: AP

National forestry agency CONAF said on Saturday that 151 of a total 231 wildfires are now under control.

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric delayed a holiday to travel to the affected areas and has requested international cooperation to assist the firefighting efforts.

He said there is “evidence” some wildfires were caused by unauthorised burnings.

A helicopter pictured in Santa Juana, near Concepcion in Chile
A helicopter pictured in Santa Juana in the Biobio region

“The full force of the state will be deployed to, first of all, fight the fires, and to accompany all the victims,” Mr Boric added.

Last summer firefighters from across Europe were dispatched to battle a ‘monster’ blaze in France, with around 360 fire staff and 100 vehicles sent to the south-western Gironde region last summer.

Elsewhere, more than 6,000 people were evacuated as wildfires tore through California, with thousands of firefighters battling to gain control.

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