Massive Fire Burns At Least 100 Homes In Chile

A fire burns houses on a hill, where more than 100 homes were burned due to a forest fire, but there have been no reports of death, local authorities said in Valparaiso, Chile, Jan. 2, 2017.
A large fire broke out in the coastal Chilean city of Valparaiso on Monday evening, burning at least 100 homes, prompting the evacuation of about 400 people and sending plumes of smoke high in the air.

Chilean Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said in televised remarks that 19 people had been slightly injured, including 16 suffering from respiratory issues. Power was initially cut to about 47,000 customers in the region, but had been restored to all but 350, he said.

Dozens of fire brigades from Valparaiso and neighboring municipalities were deployed to fight the blaze, and investigators had been sent in to determine the cause of the fire, according to the government.

Images on social media showed huge brown-gray columns of smoke emanating from a neighborhood high in one of the city’s hills, and pouring into the sky and out over the Pacific Ocean.

Authorities said gusty winds and high temperatures were likely a factor in spreading the blaze.

A drought in central Chile caused a record number of forest fires in the area last year, wreaking havoc on its key forestry industry and forcing evacuations in recent weeks near the capital, Santiago, about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Valparaiso.

“This is a high-risk zone and the sector has undergone an evacuation,” Aleuy said of the affected areas of Valparaiso. “It (evacuation) has been successful, and fortunately we don’t have any tragedies to grieve.”

Valparaiso, a scenic, but gritty port city of 285,000, is the center of a metropolitan area of about 1 million, the second largest urban district in Chile.

Built on steep hillsides in an area covered in pines, many of the city’s wooden structures are susceptible to fire, especially in the poorer neighborhoods higher in the hills. In 2014, a significantly larger fire killed 13 people and burned 2,000 homes. Many smaller fires have since hit the city.


At Least 100 Homes Burned as Fire Erupts in Chile

A large wildfire in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso has torched about 100 houses, injured at least 19 people and forced some 400 people to evacuate their homes.

Officials said the fire broke out Monday afternoon in the Laguna Verde area and spread rapidly through wooden buildings.

Firefighters and other emergency workers worked in the hills to combat the fire, with the help of water-filled airplanes and helicopters.

Firefighting efforts are hampered by winds of up to 30 kilometers per hour, dry conditions and high temperatures. Emergency workers must also contend with numerous ravines, narrow roads and the scarcity of water mains.

A drought in central Chile has caused a record number of forest fires in the last year, dealing a blow to the country's key forestry industry. In 2014, a much larger fire in Valparaiso killed 13 people and burned about 2,000 homes.

Valparaiso is Chile's second largest urban district with a population of 285,000. The picturesque colonial city is home to Chile's national congress and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Huge wildfire burns homes in Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaíso (Chile) (AFP) - A wildfire ravaged woods and burned 100 homes in the hilly Chilean port city of Valparaiso on Monday, forcing authorities to evacuate hundreds of people.

At least 19 people were reported hurt after the fire broke out on the outskirts of the historic city, the government said.

Television pictures showed thick grey smoke filling the streets in the Laguna Verde district, where the blaze struck, and flames devouring green hillsides.

Hundreds of firefighters along with water-dumping airplanes and helicopters were battling the blaze, officials said.

"Emergency protocols have been activated," President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter.

The flames had "damaged 100 homes in an area where there are 500," deputy interior minister Mahmud Aleuy told a news conference late Monday.

He said 19 people were hurt, mostly by breathing in smoke, but there were no fatalities.

The flames destroyed 50 hectares (123 acres) of woodland, the National Emergencies Office said in a statement.

Fanned by strong winds in hot summer weather, the fire broke out in the hilly region that makes Valparaiso a picturesque tourist destination.

Some 200 people were evacuated from their homes as a precaution, the agency added.

"The fire was coming from the other side of the hill, down below. We never thought it would spread so far," said Rosa Gallardo, a woman who lost her home in the fire.

"It was hopeless. The smoke was suffocating. It stung my eyes. So we had to evacuate," said Pablo Luna Flores, another resident who lost his home.

Electricity providers said they had cut power to nearly 48,000 customers also as a precaution.

The authorities issued a maximum red alert.

Located 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of the capital Santiago, Valparaiso is home to Chile's national Congress.

Laguna Verde lies on the southern outskirts of Valparaiso, a sprawling city built on 40 hills with stunning sea views.

Dubbed the "jewel of the Pacific," the picturesque colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thousands of tourists come every year to stroll its narrow cobbled streets and ride cable cars up the steep hills.

Wildfires killed 15 people in 2014 and destroyed thousands of homes in the area, particularly in the city's poorer neighborhoods.

The wooden structures with their tin roofs, perched on tinder-dry hillsides, were quickly engulfed in that fire.

More blazes in March 2015 killed one woman and forced thousands of people from their homes.

The city is home to 270,000 people overall, many living in brightly colored houses on the hillsides.

In its heyday from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, Valparaiso became famous as a stopover point for ships steaming down to the continent's southern tip and on to the Atlantic.

The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 prompted a spectacular drop in traffic to Valparaiso and an end to the port's glory days.

It now relies heavily on tourism, and living standards are lower than the average in Chile.

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