A top government official reported Saturday night that hundreds of forest fires that broke out in south central Chile during a scorching heat wave have claimed the lives of at least 23 people.
According to Deputy Interior Minister Manuel Monsalve, 979 people have been hurt by the fires, and “we want to lament the passing of 23 lives.”
Monsalve reported that 232 flames, including 16 that started earlier in the day, were still burning on Saturday.
The southern portion of Araucania was included to the disaster zone by President Gabriel Boric‘s administration. Nuble and Biobio were already listed as disaster-affected areas.
The action enables Boric to call in the military to assist in putting out the fires as the death toll grew.
As a result of the high temperatures, which reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), it was difficult to put out the flames, many of which were raging out of control.
Boric tweeted that he will continue to work “to face the forest fires and to rescue families” after interrupting his vacation to rush to the city of Concepcion, 510 kilometers (320 miles) south of the capital, Santiago.
Argentina had promised to send firefighters and supplies, according to Boric.
According to Interior Minister Carolina Toha, assistance has also been promised by Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, and Spain.
In large part because of the progression of climate change, Toha added, “We are turning into one of the (nations) most prone to flames.”
According to her, fire conditions that seemed extraordinary three years ago are becoming more typical every year.
Authorities had initially reported that ten of the fatalities occurred in Santa Juana, a town in the province of Concepcion.
According to officials, the fires burned over 47,000 hectares (116,000 acres) of forest and damaged at least 88 dwellings.
The township had been particularly heavily impacted by the flames, according to Santa Juana’s mayor, Ana Albornoz, because “the terrain is very rocky and the roads are terrible.”
While the urban region is busy, “our population is relatively small, with one individual living atop one hill and another on another hill,” she remarked.
Two crew members of a helicopter combating fires who died in a crash Friday afternoon were among the fatalities, according to officials.
While putting out the fires, one firefighter has passed away and at least eight others have been hurt.
75 planes and 2,300 firefighters have all been stationed in the area.
Fears of a repetition of 2017, when major fires in the same area killed 11 people and destroyed 1,500 homes, have been raised due to the heatwave.