Chile: 11 dead, 500 homes destroyed in forest fire

Chile: 11 dead, 500 homes destroyed in forest fire

Chile: 11 dead, 500 homes destroyed in forest fire


by Associated Press

Posted on April 13, 2014 at 11:07 AM

Updated Sunday, Apr 13 at 1:11 PM

VALPARAISO, Chile (AP) -- Authorities in Chile have lowered the death toll from a raging fire that is leaping from hilltop to hilltop in the port city of Valparaiso, saying they now have eleven confirmed dead.

But the number is expected to grow, as they reach areas that have been destroyed by the flames.
Hundreds of people have been treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.
More than 10,000 people have been evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.
The fire began Saturday afternoon in a forested area above some ramshackle housing on one of the city's many hilltops. It spread quickly as high winds rained hot ash over wooden houses and narrow streets.
As the fire spread, electricity failed. Flames turned the night sky orange over the darkened remains of entire neighborhoods.


"It's a tremendous tragedy, perhaps the worst fire" in the city's history, said President Michelle Bachelet. She announced that 11 people had been killed and warned that the toll of death and damage would rise.

She said it may be the worst fire in the city's history.

It was already the worst fire to hit the picturesque seaside city since 1953, when 50 people were killed and every structure was destroyed on several of the city's hills.

Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone, putting Chile's military in charge of maintaining order.

"The people of Valparaiso have courage, have strength and they aren't alone," Bachelet said. Valparaiso, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003, is known for colorful neighborhoods hugging hills so steep that people have to use staircases rather than streets.

About 75 miles (120 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Santiago, it has a vibrant port and is home to Chile's national legislature. But many homes in poorer areas above the city center have been built without water supplies or access points would enable firefighters to intervene, so much of the fight was from the air.

Chile mobilized 17 helicopters and planes to drop water on hotspots Sunday.

"This is the worst catastrophe I've seen," said Ricardo Bravo, the regional governor. "Now we have to make sure the fire doesn't reach the city center, which would make this emergency much more serious."

While 1,250 firefighters, police and forest rangers battled the blaze, 2,000 Chilean sailors in combat gear patrolled streets to maintain order and prevent looting.

Shelters were overflowing, and hospitals treated hundreds of people for breathing problems provoked by the smoke.

As fires were contained in some areas, some people managed to return to discover that their homes had been destroyed.

"It's frightening, everything is burned," said Francisca Granados, who had spent the night with friends in the neighboring city of Vina del Mar.

Thick clouds of smoke surrounded the city's prison, where nine pregnant inmates were transferred to a detention facility in the nearby city of Quillota.

Another 204 female inmates were being evacuated to a sports arena.

More than 2,700 male inmates will remain at the prison for now, prison guard commander Tulio Arce said.

------ Marianela Jarroud reported from Santiago, Chile. Associated Press writer Eva Vergara contributed from Santiago.