South America

Chile declares state of emergency after wildfire leaves one dead

Massive blaze near the tourist city of Vina del Mar has killed at least one person and destroyed about 200 homes.

Authorities in the South American nation of Chile are battling two fires that have claimed at least one life and are still threatening property.

A fire broke out at the Ventanas port on Thursday, and a separate forest fire to the south near the coastal resort town of Vina del Mar has killed at least one person and destroyed more than 100 homes.

The government declared a state of emergency in the Vina del Mar area on Thursday evening after the fire spread quickly. The fire had erupted earlier that day, and within 24 hours, it had burned about 125 hectares (310 acres).

Several neighbourhoods have been evacuated, with varying levels of home damage reported.

Firefighters have struggled to contain the blazes, but Manuel Monsalve, assistant to Chile’s interior minister, said on Friday that “the forecast is to be able to control the fire during the day”.

Officials had previously said that the fire near Vina del Mar, a popular tourist destination about 120kilometres (75 miles) from the capital of Santiago, had killed two people and damaged or destroyed 400 homes.

By early Friday, Monsalve had revised the number downward, saying that one person had been killed, 30 slightly injured and 130 houses destroyed, according to the AFP. Reuters has put the number of houses destroyed at 200.

Monsalve said that the earlier overcount was the result of combined estimates from various agencies.

No injuries have been reported in the fire at Ventanas, which is near a refinery and smelter facility operated by the state-run mining entity, Codelco. The company has said that the smelter was already shut down for maintenance and the refinery is operating as usual.

AES Chile, which operates a coal-fired power plant near the port, has said that the second unit of the plant, which is closest to the fire, has been taken offline.

Local media outlets have published photographs showing black plumes of smoke rising out of the port, which is located about 145km (90 miles) northwest of the capital city of Santiago.

A fire near the Chilean town of Vina del Mar has destroyed more than 100 homes and killed at least one person [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

Authorities around the world have struggled to contain increasingly intense wildfires, a problem exacerbated by climate change.

In certain parts of the western United States, for instance, wildfires have become a regular phenomenon, with massive blazes routinely forcing evacuations and growing to sizes that would have previously been seen as exceptional.

And in July, the European continent saw heightened fire activity amid a withering heatwave and drought conditions, with blazes breaking out in countries such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and France.

Wildfires also broke out in Chile’s neighbour Argentina last February, with numerous fires making their way through large swaths of the country’s Corrientes region.

In October, a forest fire also damaged the famous monuments on Chile’s Easter Island.

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