Wildfires Leave Swath of Destruction in Central Chile, Killing Scores

Feb 5, 2024

Last updated 10:30PM EST 2/4/2024

rash of wildfires sweeping across the central coast of Chile has killed scores of people. It has destroyed more than 1,000 homes. Thousands of people have been told to evacuate.

As of late Sunday night, 112 people had been killed. Hundreds were missing in the blazes, which officials say could be the deadliest in the country’s history. President Gabriel Boric predicted the death toll “will increase significantly.” He designated today and Tuesday as days of nationwide mourning.

The fires have burned more than 106,000 acres in the Valparaiso region. It is home to nearly one million people. Officials are worried about how close the fires are getting to large cities.

The wildfires have sent black smoke into the skies around Valparaiso and Viña del Mar. Firefighters have taken to helicopters to fight them. Heavy winds are making that more difficult.

Rodrigo Pulgar, 61, lives in El Olivar. That is a town near Viña del Mar. Pulgar told Agence France-Presse that as he ran to help a neighbor, he discovered his own house had caught fire. “Ash was raining down on us,” he said.

The wildfires broke out amid the El Niño climate pattern. Since December, it has driven up temperatures. It has also worsened a years-long drought in the country, raising the fire risk. The blazes struck during the height of the region’s tourist season, as vacationers flock to coastal beaches. In the southern hemisphere, it is the equivalent of early August in the north.

The disaster, Viña del Mar's mayor told The Washington Post, is an “unprecedented tragedy.”

Photo from Reuters.

Reflect: How do you think natural disasters impact both the environment and the people living in the affected areas?

What is the meaning of “rash” as used in the opening sentence of the story? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. a skin condition
b. an intentional decision
c. a protective covering
d. a sudden outbreak
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