Authorities in Chile’s Valparaiso region extended stay-at-home orders as forest fires continue to rage after killing at least 56 people in the country’s deadliest disaster since a massive earthquake in 2010.
Blazes that began on Friday spread through bushland and into populated areas on the edge of the coastal city of Viña del Mar, about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Santiago, fed by blustering wind and high temperatures.
Power and water services have been disrupted, causing Chile’s second largest oil refinery to halt operations. As firefighters continued to battle the blazes, authorities said the fires may have been intentionally lit.
“It’s evident that there was intentionality” when four separate fires start simultaneously in the same forest, Valparaíso Governor Rodrigo Mundaca told reporters on Sunday.
President Gabriel Boric declared a state of emergency in the Valparaiso region late Friday. In a televised address on Saturday, he said that the death toll could still rise. Boric is traveling there again on Sunday.
The government estimates that between 3,000 and 6,000 hectares (7,413-14,826 acres) and 1,000 homes have been razed so far, with at least 1,600 people occupying shelters as authorities and NGOs start relief efforts. More than 300 people are still unaccounted for, according to officials.
Enap, Chile’s state-owned energy company, halted operations at its second-biggest oil refinery after wildfires caused power cuts. The Aconcagua plant on the country’s central coast was placed in a what’s known as a safe position to begin gradually restarting operations, a company official said in text messages late Saturday.
The transport of copper from the large Los Bronces mine in central Chile has been unaffected by the fires, according to operator Anglo American Plc. Codelco didn’t immediately provide comment when asked about any logistical impact on its nearby Andina mine.
— With assistance from Matthew Malinowski