At least eleven people, including at least five fire fighters and two police officers, have died in a series of wildfires sweeping across central and southern Chile in the last week. Around 230 000 km² of forests have been destroyed in about a hundred different fires, which have encroached on cities such as Constitucion and Valparaiso, though the worst fires have affected rural areas in O'Higgins and El Maule regions. Chile has been sent additional fire-fighting teams by France, Russia, the United States and Peru, with teams from Mexico and Colombia expected to join them later this week.
Chile typically suffers a long dry summer, which can lead to fires on the country's grasslands and forests, and this year's summer has been exceptionally dry, due to a developing La Niña weather system over the southern Pacific, which brings drier conditions in Peru and Chile, however authorities in Chile have speculated that some of the fires may have been deliberately set.
The remains of the town of Santa Olga, which was largely destroyed by the fires. CNN.
The La Niña weather system is the opposite of the El Niño weather system, in which unusually cold surface temperatures spread across the equatorial Pacific from the upwelling zone on the South American coast. This traps warm water from the western Pacific, preventing it from spreading east and warming the central Pacific. This leads to lower evaporation over the (cooler) east Pacific, leading to low rainfall on the west coast of South America, and higher evaporation over the (warmer) west Pacific, leading to higher rainfall over East and Southeast Asia and northern Australia.
The effects of a La Niña weather system in December-February. NOAA.
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