The remains of a burnt house following the spread of wildfires affecting many parts of the Valparaiso region, in Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

El Olivar, Chile: Rodrigo Pulgar was at home listening to news of the wildfires devastating parts of Chile when flames suddenly began rushing over his community.

"It was hell," the 61-year-old told AFP in El Olivar, what had been a peaceful, scenic area. "I tried to help my neighbour...(then) my house was starting to burn. Ash was raining down on us."

As a precaution, Pulgar had sprayed water on his wooden roof, which prevented the flames from consuming his home.

His neighbors in the community of 13,000 people were not so lucky - dozens of houses were reduced to blackened walls.

The majority of residents are "older people. And my neighbour died, because we couldn't get her out," Pulgar said.

El Olivar is just outside Vina del Mar, known for a music festival and its beaches, which was devastated by a wildfire Friday that killed dozens of people and left bodies in the streets.

Vina del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti lamented that her city faces "an unprecedented catastrophe".

'Take care of my son'

Anna Karina was working in a supermarket several kilometers from her home when she learned that El Olivar was burning.

Panic gripped her. Her 14-year-old son was home alone with their dog.

"The only thing I thought was that my son was dead, that my son was burned," she said.

Seized with anguish, she started walking toward home until managing to hop on a bus, which was then almost trapped by flames.

Once in her neighbourhood, she had to cross a burning street. To her great relief, she found her son and dog outside their home, which was still standing.

"My father passed away last year and the only thing I was screaming for was for my father to take care of my son," Karina said.

Since 2017, Chile has been plagued by major forest fires.

This year they are driven by a heatwave and drought affecting the southern part of South America caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, as scientists warn that a warming planet has increased the risk of natural disasters such as intense heat and fires.