Chile expanded its emergency declaration on Saturday as raging wildfires have caused 24 deaths and nearly 1,000 grave injuries, according to Chilean authorities.
In a news conference released on Saturday, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá confirmed that the fire had caused 1,429 people to run to shelters with 554 injured at the time and 16 individuals suffering from severe burns. As a result, the government in Chile has issued a state of emergency in Ñuble, Biobío, and Araucania, three central-southern regions, as at least 45,000 hectares of forests have been destroyed.
“Twenty-eight of the hundreds of fires in Chile in recent days have burned the amount of forest and woodland the country typically loses over a year,” Tohá said. “Weather conditions have made it difficult to blast the spreading fires, and the emergency is getting worse.”
Additionally, local firefighters have been working to extinguish the rising flames, but the summer has delivered scorching heat waves that complicate their efforts. Consequently, temperatures in affected areas have exceeded 140 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and created 260 active fires within the southern region, with 28 considered greatly dangerous.
“The thermometer has reached levels that we’ve never seen until now,” Tohá adds.
In response, President Gabriel Boric announced on Saturday through Twitter that the Argentinian Republic will be sending firefighters and machinery to combat the flames. Moreover, he expressed his gratitude to his Argentinian counterpart, Alberto Fernández, for his willingness to help and stated that he would seek help from other countries.
“We are arranging support from various countries to face the emergency,” Boric said. “We will not leave them alone.”
Therefore, international help has been set to arrive on Sunday from the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, and Venezuela to support local firefighter efforts with aircraft and logistics. According to authorities, Argentina is “sending 64 firefighters, a forest fire pump truck, and a Chinook helicopter, while Spain has dispatched a plane carrying 50 members of the country’s military emergencies unit to help.”
However, amid the assistance provided, local citizens were forced to evacuate their homes quickly and leave their belongings behind to ensure survival. “I left with what I had on,” said Carolina Torres, who fled from an approaching fire near the city of Puren in the region of Araucania. “I think everyone here did the same thing because the winds shifted, and you just had to grab everything immediately.”
The rise of forest fires has presented environmental turmoils for Chile as climate change continues to evolve. Tohá has suggested that fires should serve as an additional “wake-up call about the effects of climate emergency.”
“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,” she said. “Chile is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change, and this isn’t theory but rather practical experience.”
To sum up, forest fires have created damage with rising fatalities, rising hospital injuries, and vast destruction in the southern region as temperatures have made efforts to combat the fires difficult. With international assistance to reduce the flames, it can only be hoped that the incineration could stop.
However, the heatwave is expected to continue until Wednesday, with forecasts predicting temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and rising winds. The heatwave has created fears of a repeat of 2017, where widespread fires caused 11 deaths in the same region and the destruction of 1,500 homes.
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