More than 100 people have died in devastating South America wildfires sweeping through central and south-central Chile over the past week, authorities reported on Sunday, warning that the death toll will likely rise much higher as searches continue through charred remains of communities.
At least 32 victims have been identified from the Chile wildfires thus far as emergency crews race to conduct autopsies and notify relatives.
Wildfires Continue to Expand
Over 160 separate wildfires in Chile continue burning out of control across drought-stricken forests and grasslands, according to the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (SENAPRED), which coordinates federal firefighting efforts. While firefighters have managed to contain just over 100 of the blazes, 40 major fronts remain, threatening further spread.
Much of central Chile has been suffocated for days by thick smoke as winds push enormous plumes outward from multiple uncontrolled infernos. Coastal cities such as Viña del Mar and Valparaiso endure air quality ten times worse than levels deemed hazardous amidst falling ash.
With emergency resources overwhelmed and fires expanding exponentially, Chilean President Gabriel Boric declared a catastrophe along with military deployment to assist. However, speaking after surveying damages, Boric himself warned the current death toll could soon multiply rapidly.
Entire communities have been forced to hastily evacuate as flames bear down with little warning, many residents losing everything. Heartbreaking stories abound of relatives perishing together in cars, attempting to flee at the last moment. Search teams continue sifting through ruins and makeshift morgues for more victims.
Families already grieving elsewhere brace for more tragic news as communications remain severed across remote districts isolated by severed power and telecom lines. The true scope of losses may not be known for weeks or longer, pending extensive forensics efforts.