The Death Toll from Chile’s Wildfires Reaches 131, and More than 300 People Are Missing

AP Photo/Esteban Felix, File
Residents evacuate on a motorcycle amid wildfires into Vina del Mar, Chile, Feb. 3, 2024.

VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile (AP) — The death toll from wildfires that ravaged central Chile for several days increased to 131 on Tuesday, and more than 300 people were still missing as the blazes appeared to be burning themselves out.

The fires in Valparaiso are said to be Chile’s deadliest disaster since an earthquake in 2010. Officials have suggested that some could have been intentionally set.

President Gabriel Boric during a visit to the region announced that furniture used for the 2023 Pan American Games will be donated to victims. He said the government also will forgive the water bills for 9,200 affected homes.

The fires began Friday on the mountainous eastern edge of Viña del Mar, a beach resort known for a festival that attracts the best in Latin music. Two other towns, Quilpé and Villa Alemana, also were hit hard as the fires spread quickly in dry weather and strong winds.

The Viña del Mar Festival canceled its opening gala as a sign of mourning. Many participating singers including Alejandro Sanz, Pablo Alborán and Maná sent messages of solidarity and announced donations.

Chile’s Forensic Medical Service has said many bodies recovered from the fires were in bad condition and difficult to identify, but forensic workers would take samples of genetic material from people reporting missing relatives.

“My parents’ and my sisters’ house burned, and my neighbors — the people who knew me when I was little — died,” said Gabriel Leiva, 46, going through debris in Viña del Mar. He said his neighbors were “family that is not of blood but of the heart.”

The United Nations in a statement offered its condolences and announced assistance. Meanwhile, Boric, in a tweet, thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for “his important support” following the disaster.

AP Photo/Esteban Felix
Chilean Navy personnel walk past overturned, charred cars as they deploy to help aid the Villa Independencia neighborhood affected by forest fires in Vina del Mar, Chile, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.