The death toll from the horrific February 2-3 fires near the coastal city of Viña del Mar, Chile, has risen to 123, with over 300 people missing. Over 14,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed with damage in the billions. According to statistics from EM-DAT, the international disaster database, this makes the fires the fifth-deadliest worldwide since 1900.
The fires were stoked by near-record warm temperatures that have affected central Chile in recent weeks, with temperatures up to 42.9 degrees Celsius (109°F). The accompanying lack of rainfall has created extreme drought and very dangerous fire conditions. These conditions came on top of the Central Chile megadrought that began in 2010 — the region’s longest drought in at least 1,000 years. This drought has brought precipitation 25-45% below average, lowering reservoirs and causing tensions and social unrest over water availability.
The fires ravaged the Jardín Botánico Nacional de Viña del Mar, a famed 117-year-old botanical garden that served as a refuge to more than 1,300 plant species, some of which were endangered or extinct in the wild. Only 2% of the 1.5-square-mile reserve escaped the flames, and a staff member and three family members living in the garden lost their lives. Miraculously, some of the surviving plants included Ginkgo biloba trees from the park’s “Garden of Peace,” which is made up of plants that survived the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan.
Read the rest of the story at YALE Climate Connections, here.