Chile widens state of emergency as raging wildfires leave at least 13 dead

President Gabriel Boric cuts short vacation as heatwave fuels nearly 40 blazes across southern and central regions

Chile’s government has declared a widened state of emergency amid wildfires that have killed at least 13 people and consumed about 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres), as the South American country endures a summer heatwave across southern and central swaths of the country.

The interior minister, Carolina Toha, said on Friday morning the government had declared a catastrophe in the region of Biobío, joining its neighbouring region Ñuble, which President Gabriel Boric announced on Thursday evening, allowing the deployment of soldiers and additional resources.

Eleven people, including a firefighter, had died in the Biobío town of Santa Juana, local authorities said.

The agriculture minister, Esteban Valenzuela, also reported an emergency-support helicopter in the southern region of La Araucanía had crashed, killing the pilot and a mechanic.

Hundreds of homes had been damaged while 39 fires raged across the country, Toha said.

“The conditions in the coming days are going to be risky.”

Earlier, four people were reported to have died and hundreds were evacuated on Friday when the flames reached the town of Santa Ana.

Toha said two of the dead were killed when the fires engulfed the road they were travelling on, while the other two died in a car accident, presumably while trying to escape the inferno.

Boric is due to travel to Biobió and Ñuble, which are known for agriculture and forestry, after cutting short his summer vacation.

The fires are raging between the central capital city, Santiago, and the country’s southwith the worst seen in Ñuble and Biobío as well as the Araucanía region.

Smoke rises from a fire in Santa Juana in the Biobío region on Friday
Smoke rises from a fire in Santa Juana in the Biobío region on Friday. Photograph: Javier Torres/AFP/Getty Images

Shelters have opened for families affected by the fires, according to Chile’s disaster agency, Senapred, which reported one person had suffered burns and eight firefighters had minor injuries.

Fires have disrupted traffic on highways in the burning areas, and numerous municipalities have been evacuated.

Authorities have controlled 146 fires.

Weather forecasts on Friday predicted temperatures over 100F (38C) in Ñuble’s capital, Chillán. Strong winds were also expected in the area, which risk worsening fire conditions, the National Forestry Corporation warned.

“Today, unfortunately, we have twice as many hectares burned than in previous years,” the government’s spokesman in Ñuble, Gabriel Pradenas, told local media.

“We are in a very critical state.”

Guardian staff and agencies in Santiago

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