It has been reported that a fire is raging in a colorful port city located in Chile. The disaster has already destroyed 500 homes. Julio Pineda, who is the Police General, stated that there were at least seven casualties, although the number was expected to rise. Late Sunday morning, the toll of deaths was reported to have risen to 16.
The fire started in the afternoon on Saturday, in a forest located above housing on one of the multiple hilltops in the city of Valparaiso, which is home to 250,000 people. Electricity failed as high winds helped the fire to build and ash to spread over wooden houses and narrow streets.
President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, put the military in charge of maintaining order over the people. Over 10,000 were evacuated from the port city, including over 200 female inmates from a prison. A prison guard said that 2,700 male inmates at the prison will remain.
President Bachelet mentioned that it was probably the worst fire to hit the city.
In 1953, a fire started on New Year’s in Valparaiso, claimed the lives of at least 47 and injured 350 more when a boy threw a firecracker into a lumber yard, which sparked a fire that spread quickly to other buildings, including a warehouse storing blasting powder. At the time of the explosion, the warehouse was holding ten tons of dynamite. According to firefighter Captain Heriberto Surrey, the fire had nearly been under control when the warehouse exploded. New Year spectators who had gathered to watch firefighters fighting the blaze panicked at the explosion. Some died from the blast while others were trampled to death in the chaos or killed by falling debris. The explosion was heard from eight miles away, where many thought it was an earthquake.
The city of Valparaiso is known for being an important seaport. In 2003, it was declared a World Heritage Site due to its historical importance and beautiful scenery. It has acted as the main harbor for the Chilean navy and is a required stopover for ships crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Strait of Magellan and Cape Horn.
“This fire is the worst thing that I have witnessed,” Richard Bravo, regional governor has said of the disaster ravaging the beautiful port city. “We have to ensure that the center of the city is not reached by the fire. If that does happen, the situation would become far more serious and dangerous. The severity of the emergency would surely increase.”
While over 1,000 firefighters, police and forest rangers have been battling the fire raging in the Chilean port city, sailors donned in heavy combat gear have been patrolling the streets to maintain order, and prevent chaos and looting. Helicopters have also been flying overhead, dumping water on several fire-ravaged areas.
Shelters are packed full, and hundreds of residents are being treated at hospitals for breathing problems that were brought on by the thick smoke of the raging fires.
President Bachelet declared the port city in Chile, where the fire is raging, a catastrophe zone, although the fires were already contained to just a few of the city’s hilltops. “The residents of Valparaiso are brave. They are strong and they need to know that they are not alone,” President Bachelet said.
By Jessica Cooley