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Church responds as forest fires burn in Chile

Multiple fires across south-central Chile destroy thousands of acres and homes

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is responding with donations, assistance, aid and other help as hundreds of fires burn in different parts of Chile.

“There is sadness in our hearts when we think of those whose lives have been affected by the fires that have been taking place in different parts of Chile since December, when they hit Viña del Mar,” wrote the South America South Area presidency in a statement originally published in Spanish on the Church’s Chile Newsroom.

Elder Craig C. Christensen, area president, and his counselors, Elder Joaquin E. Costa and  Elder Alan R. Walker, all General Authority Seventies, wrote, “We express our love, empathy and prayers for those affected and are mobilized as a Church to assist as we identify opportunities.” 

The Church has already given aid to several local fire departments and is making tools available for communities to use for debris removal and looking at how to help restore water connections that have been damage. The statement said the Church hopes to continue coordinating with governments and other institutions to provide assistance.

Missionaries go through rubble of a burned home in south-central Chile on Feb. 9, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

A report from news agency teleSUR on Feb. 14 listed the damages from the fires:

  • 60 fires being fought.
  • 149 fires under control.
  • 432,541 hectares (1,680 square miles) lost.
  • 24 people killed.
  • 2,911 people injured.
  • 6,855 people affected.
  • 1,513 houses destroyed.

On Feb. 10, ABC news reported that over 6,000 firefighters were on the ground and the Chilean government put three regions in the south-central part of the country — Biobio, Araucania and Ñuble — on high alert.

ABC and Reuters reported that Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Spain and the United States have all provided support.

Volunteer members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints help after the fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, Dec. 24, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Another Chile Newsroom report shared how Church members quickly helped after the fire in Viña del Mar on Christmas Eve. Young people and adults, both women and men, arrived ready to serve with gloves, safety equipment, wheelbarrows and shovels.

Two meetinghouses — one in the center of Viña del Mar and the other in Forestal — served as collection centers for donations for people affected by the fires. The donations included toiletries, bottled water, boxed milk, cereal bars and diapers. Church members also took donations to another collection center in La Cisterna.

Viña del Mar Chile Stake President Alan A. Campos said normally Christmas is focused on dinner and gifts and spending time with family. 

“But for many that was not the focus this Christmas because they forgot about themselves and went looking for those in need,” he said. “They arrived at Christmas Eve dirty from removing rubble, from comforting those who need comfort, from mourning with those that mourn, from embracing and supporting our neighbors.” 

Volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Helping Hands vests gather donations after the fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, Dec. 24, 2022. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

As the fires have grown and continued since December, the area presidency members in their statement said they sincerely appreciate the response of local Church leaders, members and missionaries to support the efforts of the fire departments, governments and their neighbors.

“We invite individuals, families and congregations to pray for protection for the dedicated firefighters and homes at risk, strength for those affected, and for weather conditions that facilitate control of the outbreaks that still exist,” the statement said.

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