Fires Rage in Central Chile

Fires Rage in Central Chile

After days of intense summer heat, devastating fires broke out in the Valparaíso region of central Chile. The deadly wildland fires destroyed thousands of homes in the coastal city of Viña del Mar.

The fires ignited in the mountainous forested areas to the east of Viña del Mar on February 2, 2024. According to news reports, the blazes quickly moved into densely populated areas on the city’s periphery despite efforts by authorities to slow their spread.

The MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of smoke billowing into the air on February 3. The fires destroyed about 8,500 hectares (30 square miles) of land and 6,000 homes, including entire neighborhoods in Viña del Mar, according to Chile’s National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (SENAPRED).

The flames were fanned by high winds and unusually hot temperatures. In the days prior to the fires, the city of Santiago, southeast of Viña del Mar, saw temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit). Many residents of Santiago reportedly travelled to coastal areas to escape the heat.

The summer heatwave was also felt elsewhere across South America. Record high temperatures were recorded near Bogotá, Colombia, in January, fueling widespread wildfires in the hills near the city. On January 23, temperatures in Jerusalén, reached 40.4°C (104.7°F), a new record high. A day later, the town of Honda reached 44°C (111°F).

Chile’s Meteorological Directorate attributed the country’s recent extreme summer heat to climate change, the long-term rise in global temperatures, and to El Niño, the natural, short-term climate phenomenon that returned in 2023.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Michala Garrison, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview. Story by Emily Cassidy.

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