A raging fire burning in the hills near the port city of Valparaíso killed at least 12 people, leaving more than 500 homeless and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 other residents, including 200 female inmates from a nearby prison.
It started on Saturday in a forest, on steep and heavily populated hills. High winds and high temps quickly fueled the flames until the fire was burning out of control.
Because of the narrow roads and steep topography, firefighters and other emergency teams found it extremely difficult to fight the fire from the ground. And with winds and intense heat, it was impossible for aircraft to help extinguish the blazing fire.
However, by Sunday morning, they managed to get the fire under control, officials said. Unfortunately though, the residents of hundreds of more homes were evacuated later in the day when the fire started up again on some of the hills.
“This is a tremendous tragedy and perhaps the worst fire in Valparaíso’s history,” President Michelle Bachelet said after arriving Sunday morning to assess the damage and meet with emergency officials to coordinate relief plans.
President Bachelet told officials that 2,000 troops had arrived to help maintain order and that 1,250 firefighters were scouring the city’s hilltops to put out any remaining flames and hot spots. With the wind and raging flames dying down, 17 aircraft were also able to join the operation.
Ms. Bachelet declared a state of emergency for the Valparaíso region on Saturday night, putting the military in charge of public security and the evacuation.
The teams set up eight shelters to house the nearly 10,000 residents who had fled the area near the fire. Many returned to their homes on Sunday, but hundreds of families returned to find there was nothing left of their homes, or their belongings.
Ms. Bachelet, since coming into office on just over a month ago, has faced two catastrophes, the other one included the April 1st earthquake that struck northern Chile, with a magnitude 8.2 which resulted in six deaths and major devastation.
The port town of Valparaíso is home to the national legislature and one of Chile’s main harbors. It is a historic city that was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003, and is home to more than 250,000 people. Luckily the fire did not affect this area.
Image via NDN