Deadly wildfires continue to rage in Chile

Deadly wildfires continue to rip through Chile, 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 26 deaths have been confirmed due to the fires as of Monday. An official briefing on Saturday evening stated that at least 979 people have been injured, while nearly 1,500 people have saught refuge at shelters. The fires have raged through the central and southern part of the country, including the regions of Ñuble and La Araucanía.

President Gabriel Boric issued emergency declarations for the southern regions of Biobio, Nuble and Araucania on Sunday, the areas most impacted by the fires.

On Sunday, officials confirmed that more that 665,000 acres (270,000 hectare) had been consumed by the fires thus far. More than 800 homes have been destroyed as of Monday. The state National Forestry Corporation reported that as of Monday morning there were 275 active fires, but at least 69 still not contained.

Trees burn as flames and smoke engulf an area near Puren, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Wildfires are spreading in southern and central Chile, triggering evacuations and the declaration of a state of emergency in some regions. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

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. Between Sunday and Monday, aid arrived in Chile from Argentina, Spain and Mexico,

A combination of gusty winds and dry conditions have made handling the fires troublesome.

"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.

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The majority of the country was in the middle of a massive heat wave when the fires broke out. 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.

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 Monday. 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.

Firefighters prepare to fight flames caused by wildfires in Puren, Chile, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Forest fires are spreading in southern and central Chile, triggering evacuations and the declaration of a state of emergency in some regions. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

"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.

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