Forest fires in central Chile's Valparaiso region have killed 131 people since Feb. 2, making it one of the worst disasters in the country's history. The following questions and answers provide insight into the disaster.
What is the status quo of the forest fires?
According to official reports, the death toll from the forest fires affecting the region of Valparaiso in central Chile has risen to 131 as of Tuesday.
As the fires subside in some areas, disaster relief workers will have a more accurate picture of the damage.
The city of Vina del Mar in Valparaiso and nearby areas were particularly hard hit, with at least 1,600 people's homes burned down, according to media reports. Local officials said about 200 people were missing in and around Vina del Mar.
Chilean President Gabriel Boric visited the affected area on Sunday and held a press conference, saying that the fire is the worst disaster in Chile since the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in 2010. The government held a two-day national mourning for the victims of the fire.
Why so many casualties?
The South American country of Chile is currently in summer, which is the period of high incidence of forest fires. According to Chilean media reports, forest fires in the Valparaiso region began to spread to some urban areas on the evening of Feb. 2. Witnesses said that the fire spread so fast that many people failed to escape.
Central Chile is being hit by a heat wave, with temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius in some areas. The complex weather conditions of high temperatures and strong winds in recent days are critical factors for the rapid spread of the fire.
Oliver Meseguer Ruiz, a geography expert at the University of Tarapaca in Chile, said the local environment and meteorological conditions were very conducive to the spread of the fire when it broke out.
The wind speed in some areas of the forest fire site exceeded 40 km per hour, which promoted the rapid spread of the fire. Almost all cities seriously affected by the fire are close to forests and vulnerable to forest fires.
On Feb. 3, President Boric stated that arson could not be ruled out as the cause of the current forest fires.
How is the disaster relief work going?
The exact causes of the fire are still under investigation. According to Chile's disaster relief department, the fires in Valparaiso have affected more than 11,000 hectares.
Manuel Monsalve, undersecretary of the interior ministry, told a press conference on Sunday that it was estimated that the fires damaged some 15,000 houses and affected some 40,000 residents.
President Boric declared on the night of Feb. 2 a state of emergency in the Valparaiso region to deploy extra resources and allow military intervention.
At present, reconstruction work has gradually started in some affected areas.