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Chile inferno: National mourning after 123 killed in wildfire; hundreds missing

Firefighters work on the zone of a forest fire in the hills in Quilpe comune, Valparaiso region, Chile on February 3, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

Chile is observing two days of national mourning as at least 123 people have been killed in a raging wildfire, the world’s third-deadliest this century.

Chile’s Legal Medical Service, the state coroner, said the fires that began on Friday killed 123 people as of Monday evening, with only 33 of the victims identified.

The death toll could rise as hundreds of people are still missing and search operations are ongoing, authorities said.

The two days of national mourning, which began on Monday, was announced by President Gabriel Boric as he warned on Sunday that the country faces a “tragedy of very great magnitude.”

Some 165 fires raged across Chile, with the resort town of Vina del Mar being one of the hardest hit areas.

About 15,000 homes have been damaged because of the fires, according to Ministry of Interior Undersecretary Manuel Monsalve.

A curfew has also been imposed in the hardest-hit areas, with the military deployed to help firefighters prevent the spread of fires.

The fires were fueled by winds and amid a brutal heatwave that has seen temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

An investigation is underway to determine whether they were started deliberately.

Scientists have warned that a warming planet has increased the risk of natural disasters, including wildfires.

Last year, some 27 people died and more than 400,000 hectares of land were affected when a record heatwave hit Chile.

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