At Least 46 Reported Dead in Chile as Forest Fires Move into Densely Populated Central Areas

People fight the fire in the Las Palmas area during the forest fires affecting Vina del Mar, Valparaiso region, Chile, 03 February 2024. (EPA)
People fight the fire in the Las Palmas area during the forest fires affecting Vina del Mar, Valparaiso region, Chile, 03 February 2024. (EPA)
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At Least 46 Reported Dead in Chile as Forest Fires Move into Densely Populated Central Areas

People fight the fire in the Las Palmas area during the forest fires affecting Vina del Mar, Valparaiso region, Chile, 03 February 2024. (EPA)
People fight the fire in the Las Palmas area during the forest fires affecting Vina del Mar, Valparaiso region, Chile, 03 February 2024. (EPA)

Intense forest fires burning around a densely populated area of central Chile have caused at least 46 deaths, Chile's president said Saturday evening, and officials said at least 1,100 homes had been destroyed.

In a nationally televised address, President Gabriel Boric warned that the death toll could worsen as four large fires burn in the region of Valparaiso, where firefighters have struggled to reach the most threatened neighborhoods.

Boric urged Chileans to cooperate with rescue workers.

“If you are told to evacuate don't hesitate to do it,” he said. “The fires are advancing fast and climatic conditions have made them difficult to control. There are high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity.”

Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said earlier Saturday that 92 forest fires were burning in the center and south of the country, where temperatures have been unusually high this week.

The deadliest of the fires were in the Valparaíso region, where authorities urged thousands of people to evacuate their homes.

Meanwhile, residents in areas farther away from the fires were told to stay at home so that fire engines, ambulances and other emergency vehicles can get about on the roads with greater ease.

Tohá said two fires near the towns of Quilpué and Villa Alemana had burned through at least 8,000 hectares (19,770 acres) since Friday. One of the fires was threatening the coastal resort town of Viña del Mar, where some neighborhoods had already been hit hard.

In Villa Independencia, a hillside neighborhood on the eastern edge of the town, several blocks of homes and businesses were destroyed. Burned cars with broken windows lined the streets, which were covered in ash.

“I've been here 32 years, and never imagined this would happen,” said Rolando Fernández, one of the residents who lost his home.

He said he first saw the fire burning on a nearby hill Friday afternoon and within 15 minutes the area was engulfed in flames and smoke, forcing everyone to run for their lives.

“I've worked my whole life, and now I'm left with nothing,” Fernández said.

Three shelters were set up in the Valparaíso region, and 19 helicopters and more than 450 firefighters were brought into the area to help battle the blazes, Tohá said.

The fires were burning on mountains that are hard to reach, such as neighborhoods built precariously on the edge of Viña del Mar.

Officials reported power blackouts as a result of the fire, and Tohá said that in the Valparaíso region, four hospitals and three nursing homes for the elderly had to be evacuated. The fire also destroyed two bus terminals, the interior minister said.

The El Niño weather pattern has caused droughts and hotter-than-usual temperatures along the west of South America this year, increasing the risk of forest fires. In January, more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forests were destroyed in Colombia by fires that followed several weeks of dry weather.



Stockholm Accuses Iran of Using Criminals in Sweden to Target Israel

A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
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Stockholm Accuses Iran of Using Criminals in Sweden to Target Israel

A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo
A police vehicle on patrol in Sweden. Reuters file photo

Sweden's domestic security agency on Thursday accused Iran of using established criminal networks in Sweden as a proxy to target Israeli or Jewish interests in the Scandinavian country.
The accusations were raised at a news conference by Daniel Stenling, the head of the SAPO agency's counterespionage unit, following a series of events earlier this year.
In late January, the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm was sealed off after what was then described as “a dangerous object” was found on the grounds of the diplomatic mission in an eastern Stockholm neighborhood. Swedish media said the object was a hand grenade.
The embassy was not evacuated and the object was eventually destroyed. No arrests were made and authorities did not say what was found. On May 17, gunshots were heard near the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm and the area was cordoned off. No one was arrested.
According to The Associated Press, Stenling said, without offering specifics or evidence to back up his assertion, that the agency "can establish that criminal networks in Sweden are used as a proxy by Iran.”
“It is very much about planning and attempts to carry out attacks against Israeli and Jewish interests, goals and activities in Sweden," he said and added that the agency sees "connections between criminal individuals in the criminal networks and individuals who are connected to the Iranian security services.”
Justice Minister Gunnar Strömmer and Hampus Nygårds, deputy head of the Swedish police's National Operations Department, were also at the online news conference with Stenling.
“We see this connection between the Iranian intelligence services, the security services and precisely criminals in the criminal networks in Sweden," Stenling said. “We see that connection and it also means that we need to work much more internationally to get to the crimes and be able to prevent them.”
Stenling and the others made no mention of the recent incidents connected to the Israel Embassy and stopped short of naming any criminal groups or suspects.
Sweden has grappled with gang violence for years and criminal gangs often recruit teenagers in socially disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods to carry out hits.
By May 15, police have recorded 85 shootings so far this year, including 12 fatal shootings. Last year, 53 people were killed and 109 were wounded in a total of 363 shootings.