Across the country, 92 fires were burning on Saturday, and responders had managed to control 40 of them, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá said. The blazes have spread to at least 43,000 hectares, or more than 106,000 acres, Tohá said.
While the surface area is smaller than the area affected by forest fires in the country in February last year, Tohá said the blazes are expected to multiply quickly. The biggest concern, she said, is that many of the fires are inching very close to urban areas.
Boric said authorities are investigating suspected arson connected to the fires. “While it is difficult to imagine who would be willing to cause so much tragedy and so much pain, know that we will investigate,” he said.
Authorities have not yet provided any details on those who died in the blazes.
An estimated 1,000 homes had been damaged in the Valparaíso region, according to Chilean disaster agency Senapred. Hillside neighborhoods around the coastal resort city of Viña del Mar were among those hardest hit.
The president decreed a curfew in the area to help free up routes for emergency vehicles and to allow people to evacuate.
Wildfires are relatively common in Chile during the summer months. The peak fire season typically begins in early December and lasts several months.
This year, a change to the El Niño weather pattern — which causes rising sea temperatures near South America — has led to soaring temperatures and heat waves across the region, including in the Chilean capital, Santiago.
Colombia’s government last month asked for international help to combat raging wildfires.