Dozens of raging wildfires in Chile claimed at least four lives while torching some 14,000 hectares, authorities reported on Friday, as a summer heat wave engulfs a large swath of the South American country.
The deaths occurred in the town of Santa Juana in Biobio, a region some 310 miles (500 km) south of Santiago, the capital.
Interior Minister Carolina Toha said the victims died while driving, and said the government was evaluating other incidents, including serious injuries sustained by firefighters.
The government has declared states of catastrophe in Biobio and neighboring Nuble, both of which are home to farms and forests, allowing for the deployment of soldiers and greater coordination in firefighting and public security.
Hundreds of homes have been damaged as 39 fires rage across the country, Toha said, with the blazes concentrated in Nuble and Biobio, as well as the region of La Araucania.
“The conditions in the coming days are going to be risky,” Toha told journalists.
President Gabriel Boric on Friday cut his summer vacation short and traveled to Nuble and Biobio, which together have a population of nearly 2 million people.
Some families sought refuge in shelters, according to Chilean disaster agency Senapred.
Fires disrupted traffic on highways in the stricken areas, and numerous municipalities have been evacuated.
Weather forecasts Friday predicted temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in Nuble’s capital, Chillan.
Strong winds are also expected in the area, which risk worsening fire conditions, the National Forestry Corporation warned.