Deadly forest fire sweeps into Valparaiso, Chile

By Tom Azzopardi, Monday, April 14, 2014

Sixteen dead and thousands evacuated as a deadly fire sweeps across Chile's port of Valparaiso

Sixteen dead and thousands evacuated as a deadly fire sweeps across Chile's port of Valparaiso

SANTIAGO, Chile - Sixteen people are dead and thousands have been forced to abandon their homes as a huge forest fire has swept into the Chilean port of Valparaiso.

More than 1,200 firefighters from across the Valparaiso and neighboring regions are working to contain the fire, supported by firefighting helicopters and airplanes, the national forestry corporation said.   

Most of the dead are thought to be elderly who had failed to flee the flames in time.

The government has said around 500 people have been treated in local hospitals with three remaining in a critical condition and six hundred are being provided with food and shelter at local schools. The Chilean Red Cross has called for people to donate food, water, blankets and nappies to the affected families, many of whom have lost everything they owned.  

Visiting the area Sunday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said the fire was possibly the worst to affect the city, one of Chile´s largest ports, in its 200 year history and that the government´s top priority was to help those affected and to maintain law and order in the city, which has been declared a disaster area.

Around 2,000 police and soldiers have been provided to prevent looters picking through the ruins.  

As strong winds off the Pacific Ocean fan the inferno, more parts of the city are expected to be affected as the wind is forecast to increase in strength Sunday and an estimated 8,000 people have been evacuated from their homes as a precaution.  

Valparaiso is built on a series of hills that sweep up from the Pacific Ocean into high pine forests, which the recent dry summer has left tinder dry. Forest fires, sometimes started deliberately, regularly reach the precarious housing built on the city´s upper edges. Back in February 2013, around a thousand were forced out of their homes by a similar fire.  

The fire is the second disaster President Bachelet has had to face since taking office last month. On April 1, an earthquake, measuring 8.2 on the Richter Scale, left six people dead and forced nearly a million people to abandon their homes as the government issued a tsunami alert for the country´s 4,000 kilometer long Pacific seaboard.

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