At least 19 dead as forest fires rage in Chile, with heavily populated towns under threat

Death toll set to rise as rescue workers struggle to reach areas hit by fires, which have so far covered up to 43,000 hectares in central Chile

At least 19 people were killed by forest fires in the coastal tourist city of Viña del Mar in Chile, and the death toll could rise in the coming hours as rescue teams reach more affected areas, interior minister Carolina Toha said on Saturday.

Black smoke billowed into the sky over many parts of the Valparaiso region, home to nearly one million inhabitants in central Chile, while firefighters using helicopters and trucks struggled to quell the flames in the area. Throughout the country there were 92 active fires, leaving more than 43,000 hectares affected by the incident, Ms Toha said.

“The report of fatalities is very provisional,” she said. “We have reports from other places where there are indications that there may be more people dead but we do not have confirmation on the ground.”

Ms Toha said 15 of the victims had been identified and that all were from the area of Villa Independencia. There were 92 active fires and rescue workers were having difficulty reaching some of the hardest-hit areas, she said.


Wildfires are not uncommon in Chile over summer months; last year, on the back of a record heatwave, some 27 people died and more than 400,000 hectares were affected.

“The area with fires today is much smaller than last year [but] at this time the number of hectares affected is multiplying very rapidly,” Ms Toha said.

Between Friday and Saturday the hectares impacted by the wildfires increased from 30,000 to 43,000.

Ms Toha said that the authorities’ greatest concern was that some of the active fires were developing very close to urban areas, “with the very high potential to affect people, homes and facilities”.

Chile’s president, Gabriel Boric, was set to fly over the affected area on Saturday, Ms Toha said. Mr Boric declared a state of emergency in the Valparaiso region late on Friday and ordered initial evacuations.

– Reuters (additional reporting: Bloomberg)