Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have caused at least 50 deaths and destroyed up to 2,000 homes.
In a nationally televised address, Chilean President Gabriel Boric warned that the death toll could worsen as four large fires burn in the region of Valparaiso, where firefighters have struggled to reach the most threatened neighbourhoods.
The mayor of Viña del Mar, a coastal tourist city, has said more than two hundred residents have been reported missing.
Boric has urged Chileans to co-operate with rescue workers.
“If you are told to evacuate don’t hesitate to do it,” he said. “The fires are advancing fast and climatic conditions have made them difficult to control. There are high temperatures, strong winds and low humiditiy.”
Throughout the country more than 43,000 hectares have been affected by the fires, according to the interior ministry.
Chile’s Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said there were 92 forest fires burning in the centre and south of the country, where temperatures have been unusually high this week.
The deadliest of the fires were occurring in the region of Valparaíso, where authorities urged people not to leave their homes so that fire engines, ambulances and other emergency vehicles can transit with greater ease.
The fires have been driven higher-than-usual temperatures and strong winds.
A year ago in February 2023, fires in the country swept through more than 400,000 hectares and killed more than 22 people.
The El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and hotter than usual temperatures along the west of South America this year, increasing the risk of forest fires.
In January this year, more than 17,000 hectares of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather.