Valparaiso, a city in Chile, has nearly been destroyed by fire. The fire spread rapidly through the hills in the port city, and 16 people have died as a result. Over 500 home have been destroyed by the blaze, and 10,000 people evacuated, including women inmates at a local prison. Over 2,700 male inmates were left at the prison for undisclosed reasons. More than 1,200 police, forest rangers, and firefighters fought the blaze, while Chilean soldiers were deployed in combat gear to prevent looting and to keep order in the streets.
The fire was started Saturday afternoon by an unknown source in a forest area above the city, and grew rapidly as strong winds sent hot embers and ash over wooden structures. Gusts of wind and high temperatures have also complicated operations for the firefighters. Valparaiso lost electricity as the fire grew, leaving the blaze as the only source of light for the fleeing residents. Numerous homes in the poorer areas ofthe city’s center were not built yet and did not have access to water, preventing firefighters from being able to use local water sources to fight the fire. A considerable amount of the fire fighting had to be completed by air. The regional governor, Ricardo Bravo, said the wildfire was the worst catastrophe he had ever seen, as it has destroyed many structures in the city. Now officials have to make sure the fire does not reach the city center. If it did, it would create a much more serious emergency situation.
Since this city in Chile was nearly destroyed by fire, Shelters have been filled beyond capacity to accommodate the newly homeless citizens in the area, and hospitals have seen an influx of patients and people for burns, smoke inhalation, and breathing difficulties triggered by the smoke.
President Michelle Bachelet said firefighters have since contained most of the blaze, organizing 18 planes and helicopters to release water over the hottest areas. Bachelet cautioned citizens to be prepared as it is likely the number of fatalities and cost of damages would increase, once authorities were able to enter the smoldering remnants of the burned buildings. Julio Pineda, acting Military Police General, said, so far, the fire has destroyed various structures in this city in Chile, with nearly 500 people injured. The National Forensics Service said DNA testing will be necessary to identify the remains of those who were killed during the blaze.
This is the worst fire to happen in the city in 60 years. Though this city in Chile was nearly destroyed by fire, this is not the only major fire to happen there. Valparaiso also had a fire in 1953, resulting in 50 casualties and damages to various structures thought the city. The fires have been mostly contained, but Bachelet has declared the entire city a disaster zone. The government has also declared a health alert for the region, as the hazardous smoke from the spread of the fire. Smoke has overwhelmed the capital Santiago, and the fire has produced the worst air quality in years. The government is urging residents to stay inside unless leaving is absolutely necessary.
By Sarah Wright