Reuters photographers covering protests in the central Santiago rallying point of Plaza Italia were getting ready to capture images on Monday as the police set about clearing the square for the evening.
Jorge Silva, Reuters chief photographer in South East Asia, has been in Chile covering the protests that started two weeks ago over public transport fare hikes and broadened into often violent demonstrations over inequality in one of Latin America’s richest nations.
He was standing close to the Baquedano metro station that has remained shuttered amid arson attacks, and watched as police tried to drive protesters away from a broad avenue leading out of the square.
As the police used tear gas canisters and water cannon against the protesters, he saw a series of Molotov cocktails thrown in the direction of the police.
Two police officers were engulfed in flames. They were helped by colleagues who used fire extinguishers and their hands to put out the fires.
The two women, María José Hernández Torres, 25, and Abigail Catalina Aburto Cardenas, 20, both members of the Santiago police special forces, are in serious condition in hospital, police said.
Silva saw a flare out of the corner of his eye and swung his camera to capture an image just as the flames surged above the heads of the police officers.
“I realized a police officer had been set on fire by a Molotov and her team were trying to extinguish the fire,” he said.
Three Reuters photographers captured images showing one of the officers, her helmet pulled off, grimacing in pain as her colleagues sprayed her with a fire extinguisher to try to put out the flames licking around her face.