Chilean firefighters battle to contain devastating blaze


Chilean firefighters battled Friday to contain a devastating blaze that ravaged scores of homes in a coastal resort city, killing two people.

Officials said at least 130 homes were destroyed by the fire in Vina del Mar, northwest of the capital Santiago.

“We lost everything — documents, our vehicle,” resident Oscar Gonzalez said, adding that what hurt most was the loss of his dogs.

President Gabriel Boric arrived at Vina del Mar on Friday afternoon to head an emergency meeting and visit affected areas.

“They can rest assured that we will not abandon them,” the president said, underscoring the need to redouble prevention efforts at the start of a particularly hot, dry Southern Hemisphere summer.

“In our country we are standing on a powder keg. What happened (in Vina del Mar) could happen elsewhere,” he said.

The light of day revealed a grim panorama of destruction left by the fire, which broke out Thursday and roared down a forested mountainside.

Manuel Monsalve, an assistant to the interior minister, said better weather should help firefighters to control the blaze by the end of Friday.

By late afternoon, it had been contained to three forest blazes outside the urban area.

‘Everything is burnt’

Officials have given shifting assessments of the fire’s toll.

As of Friday afternoon, they said two people had died — an 85-year-old woman and a man of 62.

Thirty people were injured and 130 houses and 125 hectares of land destroyed.

Vina del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said the number of homes lost in the region, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Santiago, was probably much higher.

Fanned by strong gusts of wind, the fire had roared from the upper areas of town down ravines and hills to more heavily inhabited sections of Vina del Mar, most of them lower-income neighborhoods with narrow streets and houses of flimsy construction.

Several neighborhoods were ordered evacuated.

“The houses were burning one after the other,” said 66-year-old Daniel Velazquez. “Everything is burnt.”

The government declared a state of emergency in the larger Valparaiso region.

“There was a very quick response to the beginning of the fire but… it spread very aggressively and quickly,” said Monsalve.

Wind gusts of 40 to 50 kilometers per hour complicated the work of more than 400 firefighters and 150 forest rangers deployed to battle it with the help of 10 helicopters.

Weary, teary-eyed residents were sifting through smoking debris on Friday looking for anything salvageable.

“We had to go out with just what we were wearing,” resident Evelyn Arancibia told AFP.

“It was hell.”

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