The UN agency says Chile's wildfires are likely to be the deadliest on record

Javier Torres/AFP/Getty Images

A forest fire reduces homes to rubble and ash on the hills of Viña del Mar, Chile, on February 3.



CNN

Devastating wildfires sweeping through large parts of Chile are believed to be the country's deadliest on record, according to the UN disaster agency, with firefighters struggling to contain more than 160 blazes days after they burned.

The fires claimed the lives of at least 123 people, and hundreds of people are still missing, according to Chilean authorities. Officials also said 33 bodies have been identified and autopsies have been conducted on 79 bodies.

Hundreds more are still missing and the death toll is expected to rise, according to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Forest fires have devastated vast swaths of central and northern Chile, destroying thousands of homes and buildings and reducing neighborhoods to ashes.

President Gabriel Buric said on Tuesday that the fires are the country's “biggest tragedy” since the deadly 2010 earthquake – a magnitude 8.8 one that killed hundreds.

“The residents of Viña del Mar, Quilboy and Villa Alemana have experienced an extremely catastrophic, exceptional, unprecedented and painful situation,” he said on Tuesday.

Esteban Felix/AP

A view of burned neighborhoods during wildfires in Viña del Mar, Chile, on February 5, 2024. The areas around Viña del Mar were among the areas hardest hit by the country's deadly wildfires.

Buric declared a state of emergency on Sunday, as coastal cities including Viña del Mar and Valparaíso were choked with smoke as the fires moved from forests to urban areas. Aerial footage of Viña del Mar shows burned streets and row after row of destroyed homes.

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The President declared Monday and Tuesday days of national mourning for the victims of the fires.

The catastrophic fires in Chile were caused by the effects of El Niño – a natural climate fluctuation that has a global warming effect – colliding with the long-term trend of global warming, which is making droughts and heat waves more severe and frequent.

Over the past decade, Chile has been grappling with this “Mega drought” The longest there has been for at least 1,000 years, stressing water supplies and drying out the landscape, setting it up for fire.

The country has also been exposed to abnormally high temperatures in recent days. The temperature in the Chilean capital Santiago reached 37.3 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) on January 31, the third highest temperature recorded in the country in more than a century, according to the World Meteorological Agency.

The past few years have seen a significant increase in wildfire activity in Chile, according to January Stady Published in the journal Nature High temperatures, drought and strong winds combined to create the ideal conditions for intense and destructive fires.

The study found that a total of 1.7 million hectares have been burned in the country over the past decade.

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