April 14, 2014 – Chilean Port City Fire Kills at Least 11 and Leaves Hundreds Homeless: A voracious fire that spread through the hills of the port city of Valparaíso left at least 11 people dead and more than 500 families homeless on Sunday, a day after it forced the evacuation of thousands of others.
The fire began on Saturday in a forest on one of the city’s many steep, heavily populated hills. Strong winds and high temperatures quickly turned it into an uncontrollable blanket of flames that covered the colorful maze of wooden shacks and houses on the city’s hilltops.
The area’s topography and narrow roads made it hard for firefighters to fight the blaze on the ground, and the winds and intense heat made it impossible for aircraft to contribute to the operation. By Sunday morning, the fire was largely under control, officials said. But the residents of hundreds of more homes were evacuated later in the day when the fire started up again on some of the hills.
“This is a tremendous tragedy and perhaps the worst fire in Valparaíso’s history,” President Michelle Bachelet said after arriving at the scene on Sunday morning to meet with regional authorities and emergency officials to assess the damage and coordinate relief plans.
She said that 2,000 troops had arrived to help maintain order and that 1,250 firefighters were scouring the city’s hilltops to put out any remaining flames. With the wind and raging flames dying down, 17 aircraft were also able to join the operation.
Ms. Bachelet declared a state of emergency for the Valparaíso region on Saturday night, putting the Navy in charge of public security and the evacuation.
This is the second catastrophe that Ms. Bachelet has faced since she took office more than a month ago. On April 1, a magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck northern Chile, leaving six dead and much devastation.
Four shelters were set up to receive the nearly 10,000 residents who had fled the area near the fire. Many returned to their homes on Sunday, but hundreds of families were left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
Valparaíso is home to the national legislature and one of Chile’s main ports. The historic center of the picturesque city of 250,000 people was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003. That area was not affected by the fire. (Credits – Pascale Bonnefoy and the New York Times).
The Master of Disaster