CNN — At least 51 people have been killed in Chile as forest fires rage throughout the country – and authorities warn the death toll is likely to rise.
A state of emergency has been declared as coastal cities are choked in smoke and people living in central regions are forced to leave their homes.
“Given the conditions of the tragedy, the number of victims will surely increase in the coming hours,” Chilean President Gabriel Boric said in a televised statement on Saturday.
He added that the defense ministry would deploy more military units to affected areas, with all necessary resources made available.
The declaration was made for the provinces of Marga Marga and Valparaíso, the presidential delegate of Valparaíso Sofía González Cortés said. A curfew was imposed in several communes between 8 a.m. and midday local time to facilitate the deployment of emergency and logistical support, she added.
About 92 active fires are burning in various parts of the country and have so far affected roughly 43,000 hectares, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said. Firefighters have controlled 40 fires and are still battling 29, she added.
The fires come as the country is hit by a summer heatwave, with Chile’s capital Santiago sweltering through consecutive days of hot, dry temperatures climbing above 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F).
Scientists say climate change and the El Nino weather phenomenon are driving forces behind an increasingly warm planet, making events such as heatwaves and fires more likely.
At least one person has been detained so far in connection to the wildfires, CNN affiliate CNN Chile reported.
According to police, the man was at his home in the city of Talca in central Chile doing welding work when a fire accidentally started and spread to nearby grasslands, CNN Chile reported. The suspect will be arraigned on Sunday in Talca, according to the Maule Prosecutor’s Office.
Emergency crews are prioritizing the fires in the port city of Valparaíso on Chile’s coast because of their proximity to urban areas and around 372 residents have been reported missing, according to its mayor.
One of those fires has consumed some 6,800 hectares, Tohá said.
The wildfires in Valparaíso have also damaged an estimated 1,100 homes, authorities said.
“The biggest concern is that some of the fires are in zones very close to urban areas, at the interface of urban areas, and therefore have a very high potential to affect people, homes and installations,” she added.
Toha told reporters that the death toll could rise in the coming hours as authorities try to confirm information from areas they haven’t been able to enter yet.
At least six of those who died did so while being treated in hospitals for burns, according to authorities.