In the port city of Valparaiso, Chile, a fire has killed at least 11 people, with the death toll steadily rising, and destroyed 500 homes, according to Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet. Atleast 10,000 people were evacuated including 200 female inmates at a prison. With hot dry winds stoking the embers, some of the fires that authorities had declared contained broke out again as a second night fell. Fires they thought were contained 24 hours after they started Saturday kicked up again with Sunday afternoon’s winds and raged out of control, threatening more neighborhoods.
The fire initially started Saturday afternoon in a ravine next to ramshackle housing on one of Valparaiso’s hilltops, and rapidly spread as hot ash rained down over the wooden houses and narrow streets that lack effective water systems. Electricity failed as the fire grew, with towering flames turning the night sky orange over a darkening, destroyed horizon.
Schools in Valparaiso were closed Monday due to because some of the schools were damaged and others were overflowing with evacuees. The fires destroyed at least 2,000 houses by Sunday evening, and the death toll rose to 12. Three of the 12 victims were burned so badly that they had to be identified by DNA tests the national forensics service. Atleast 600 people were treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.
This is the city’s worst fire since 1953, when 50 people were killed. President Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone and put the military in charge of maintaining order. The fires have caused the shelters to overflow and looting is on the rise. Police, officers, and firefighters have been called in to order.