The fires spread so furiously across the Valparaíso region that many residents didn’t have time to flee. The death toll hit 122 on Monday, and with hundreds still missing, those numbers are expected to rise.
The fires started Friday night and scorched a path through the coastal cities of Valparaíso and Viña Del Mar. The South American country began a two-day period of mourning Monday as firefighters and the military continued working to put out some of the countless fires still burning across the area.
As residents return to the roughly 14,000 damaged homes, the reality of the situation has started to sink in as they cope with the unimaginable horrors they witnessed.
Survivors described how terrifying it was as the fire rushed across the landscape faster than they could’ve ever imagined.
Jesica Barrios told Reuters that the fire had arrived “from one moment to the next.”
“The fire reached the botanical park and then in 10 minutes it was already on us,” she said. “There was smoke, the sky turned black, everything was dark. The wind felt like a hurricane. It was like being in hell.”
“It’s like a war zone, as if a bomb went off,” said Jacqueline Atenas, who returned to what was left of her home on Monday. “It burned like someone was throwing gasoline on the houses. I don’t understand what happened … There was a lot of wind, a lot of wind and big balls of fire that would fly by.”
Why were these fires so devastating?
The fires were fueled by strong winds and an intense heatwave that has stretched across much of South America’s southern cone, with temperatures reaching triple digits. El Niño has also added to the extreme weather in Chile as the weather phenomenon warms the Pacific Ocean.
Extreme weather disasters like these horrific wildfires are becoming more frequent due to the overheating of our planet. Farmers across the globe are struggling with severe droughts, tornados are spinning their way out of “Tornado Alley,” and insurance companies are raising their premiums or outright refusing to cover residents in certain areas due to increased risk from our changing climate.
What can I do to help?
For those looking to support the Chilean people by donating money, the U.S. Embassy in Chile has compiled a list of organizations working to combat the fires.
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