Forest fires rage on in central Chile, killing at least 112 people over 3 days

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Locals clean the rubble of burnt-out houses after forest fires reached their neighborhood in Vina del Mar, Chile on Feb 4. (AP)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP): Firefighters wrestled Sunday with massive forest fires that broke out in central Chile two days earlier, as officials extended curfews in cities most heavily affected by the blazes and said at least 112 people had been killed.
The fires burned with the highest intensity around the city of Viña del Mar, where a famous botanical garden founded in 1931 was destroyed by the flames Sunday. At least 1,600 people were left without homes.
Several neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Viña del Mar were devoured by flames and smoke, trapping some people in their homes. Officials said 200 people were reported missing in Viña del Mar and the surrounding area. The city of 300,000 people is a popular beach resort and also hosts a well-known music festival during the southern hemisphere’s summer.
On Sunday morning, Chilean President Gabriel Boric visited the town of Quilpé, which was also heavily affected by the fires and reported that 64 people had been killed. Late Sunday, Chile’s Forensic Medicine Service updated the confirmed death toll to 112 people.
Boric said the death toll could rise as rescue workers search through homes that have collapsed. Some of those arriving in hospitals were also in critical condition.
Rodrigo Mundaca, the governor of the Valparaiso region, where Viña del Mar and other affected cities are located, said Sunday he believed some of the fires could have been intentionally caused, echoing a theory that had also been mentioned Saturday by Boric.
“These fires began in four points that lit up simultaneously,” Mundaca said. “As authorities we will have to work rigorously to find who is responsible.”
The fires around Viña del Mar began in mountainous forested areas that are hard to reach. But they have moved into densely populated neighborhoods on the city’s periphery despite efforts by Chilean authorities to slow down the flames.

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