At least 99 people killed in forest fires in Chile

Governor of the Valparaiso region says he believes some of the fires could have been caused intentionally

Firefighters on Sunday fought massive forest fires that broke out in central Chile two days earlier, as officials extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said at least 99 people were killed.

The fires have been burning with the highest intensity around the city of Vina del Mar, where a famous botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames on Sunday.

At least 1,600 people were left without homes.

Several neighbourhoods on the eastern edge of Vina del Mar have been devoured by flames and smoke, trapping some people in their homes.


Officials said 200 people have been reported missing in Vina del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort and also hosts a music festival during the summer.

Rodrigo Mundaca, governor of the Valparaiso region, said on Sunday he believed some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, repeating a theory mentioned on Saturday by president Gabriel Boric.

“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mr Mundaca said. “As authorities we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”

The fires around Vina del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach but have moved into densely populated neighbourhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow the flames.

On Saturday Mr Boric said that unusually high temperatures, low humidity and high wind speeds were making it difficult to control the fires, which have already burnt through 8,000 hectares of forests and urban areas.

Mr Boric flew over some of the areas burnt by the fires on Sunday and visited a school that has been turned into a shelter for the displaced.

He said a presidential holiday home on the shores of Vina del Mar that is surrounded by large gardens would be temporarily converted into a leisure centre for the children of families affected by the fires.

The president declared two days of national mourning.

“All of Chile is suffering” Mr Boric said. “But we will stand up once again.”

Officials are asking people in areas affected by the fires to evacuate their homes as quickly as possible, while those further from the fires are being told to stay at home to facilitate the transit of fire engines and ambulances.

Curfews have been declared in Vina del Mar, and the neighbouring cities of Quilpe and Villa Alemana as part of an effort to prevent looting.

The fires broke out during a week of record high temperatures in central Chile. Over the past two months, the El Nino weather pattern has caused droughts and high temperatures in western South America that have also increased the risk of forest fires. - AP