Deadly wildfires continue to rip through Chile this weekend, as dry and gusty conditions have significantly hindered attempts to control the flames.
Named the Biobío wildfires, based on one of the regions the flames have consumed, at least 23 deaths have been confirmed due to the fires through Saturday. An official briefing on Saturday evening stated that at least 979 people have been injured, while more than 1,100 have sought refuge in shelters. The fires have raged through the central and southern part of the country, including the regions of Ñuble and La Araucanía.
National forestry agency CONAF reported that 80 of the 231 fires were active as of Saturday, with 28 pointed out as “relevant” flames. A total of 151 fires have been controlled thus far. In impacted regions, more than 2,300 CONAF brigade firefighters have been working to contain flames, along with 66 aircraft and nearly 3,000 volunteers. On Friday, a crash of an emergency support helicopter in La Araucanía killed both its pilot and mechanic, officials said.
On top of Chile’s national efforts, officials noted Saturday that multiple international governments have offered help, including the United States and Spain. A combination of gusty winds and dry conditions have made handling the fires troublesome, with about 99,000 acres burned as of Friday.
“Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out [the fires] that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Chile Interior Minister Carolina Tohá Morales told reporters, adding that 76 more fires ignited on Friday.
In the Chilean capital city of Concepción, where flames are rampant, wind gust reports have ranged as high as 51 mph late last week, with winds still gusting between 25-40 mph into the weekend. No rainfall was observed in the city throughout the entire month of January, and only 0.16 of an inch was observed in December, 23% of the normal amount.
High temperatures on Friday across Chile climbed above 90 degrees, including a high of 94 degrees in Concepción, approximately 20 degrees above normal for this time of year.
“Dry conditions in place and parched vegetation can set the stage for ample fuel for area wildfires,” AccuWeather meteorologist Alyssa Smithmyer said. “Combined with gusty winds, it creates a scary situation that can be challenging to control.”
The winds were a dangerous omen for evacuees, who were forced to evacuate their living spaces immediately.
“I left with what I had on,” Carolina Torres, who fled from Puren in the Araucania region, told The Jerusalem Post. “I think everyone here did the same thing, because the winds shifted and you just had to grab everything right away.”
No cause of the fires have been confirmed as of yet, but Chile President Gabriel Boric has pointed to “signs” that some fires may have been started intentionally.
Produced in association with AccuWeather.