The city of Valparaiso, Chile is deciding whether or not to evacuate 10,000 people after declaring a state of emergency. 4,500 people have already been evacuated from this port city since a forest fire began on Friday.
Officials believe the forest fire started at an illegal garbage facility, and the flames spread quickly with the high winds and dry air. So far, one 67-year-old woman has been reported dead due to cardio-respiratory problems, and 10 others have been reported injured (three of which are firefighters). Further, officials are concerned about the fire reaching the nearby city of Vina del Mar.
Valparaiso is an idyllic city 70 miles northwest of Santiago. Its colorful buildings and magnificent architecture have garnered nicknames such as “The Jewel of the Pacific.” The area has a rich history of being a major stopover for ships going between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans via the Straits of Magellan. Since then, its population has flourished, making it the third largest metropolitan area in the nation. In 2003, the historic section was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has since become nicknamed “Chile’s Cultural Capital.”
However, this is not the first catastrophe that Valparaiso has had to cope with. Just one year ago, they encountered the same problem. A forest fire that spread throughout the city killed 15, injured over 500, and ruined more than 2,900 homes. Most of those homes came from Valparaiso’s poorer areas, where homes are built to be wooden huts, not equipped to defend against blazing flames.
The current forest fire is said to have burned at least 220 hectares so far, and while authorities are saying the conditions do not appear to be as severe as last year, results still could be devastating.
ABC reported Mahmud Aleuy, Chief Deputy Interior Security, said “We have taken the decision to declare a state of emergency in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso … and preventive evacuation in a range from 4,000 to 16,000 people, depending on the progress of the fire.”
Forest fires are common in Chile this time of year, when the summer is ending and the air is hot and dry. But that does not make them any easier for the citizens or the government to deal with. In the coming hours and days as the fire hopefully comes to a close, they will be able to see the damage and begin the recovery process.
Images found here.