Huge wildfire destroys homes in Chile tourist city

11:00 | 03/01/2017
SANTIAGO: A wildfire ravaged 50 hectares of woodland and destroyed homes in the tourist city of Valparaiso in western Chile, driving the authorities to evacuate hundreds of people on Monday (Jan 2).
Smoke billows from a forest near Valparaiso, in Chile, as the huge forest fire threatens to reach the city's port. Authorities have declared a red alert in the area. (Daniel RETAMAL/AFP)

At least one person was reported hurt after the fire broke out on the outskirts of the historic port city, the National Emergencies Office (ONEMI) said in a statement.

Television pictures showed thick grey smoke filling the streets in the Laguna Verde district, where the blaze struck, and flames devouring green hillsides.

Hundreds of firefighters along with water-dumping airplanes and helicopters were battling the blaze, officials said.

"Emergency protocol have been activated," the country's President Michelle Bachelet said on Twitter. She expressed "solidarity with the people affected."

Located 120 kilometres northwest of the capital Santiago, Valparaiso is home to Chile's national Congress.

The flames destroyed five homes and 50 hectares of woodland, ONEMI said on Monday evening. It reported no fatalities for the time being.

Some 200 people were evacuated from their homes as a precaution, the agency added.

Electricity providers said they had cut power to nearly 48,000 customers also as a precaution.

Fanned by strong winds in hot summer weather, the fire broke out in the wooded, hilly region that makes Valparaiso a picturesque tourist destination.

The authorities issued a maximum red alert.


Laguna Verde lies on the southern outskirts of Valparaiso, a sprawling city built on 40 hills with stunning views over the sea.

Dubbed the "jewel of the Pacific," the picturesque colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Thousands of tourists come every year to stroll its narrow cobbled streets and ride cable cars up the steep hills.

Wildfires killed 15 people in 2014 and destroyed thousands of homes in the area, particularly in the city's poorer neighborhoods.

The wooden structures with their tin roofs, perched on tinder-dry hillsides, were quickly engulfed.

More blazes in March 2015 killed one woman and forced thousands of people from their homes.

The city is home to 270,000 people overall, many living in brightly colored houses on the hillsides.

In its heyday from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, Valparaiso became famous as a stopover point for ships steaming down to the continent's southern tip and on to the Atlantic.

The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 prompted a spectacular drop in traffic calling in at Valparaiso and an end to the port's glory days.

It now relies heavily on tourism, and living standards are lower than the average in Chile.


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