UK & World News

  • 14 April 2014, 16:38

Chile Fire: Catastrophe Declared In Valparaiso

Firefighters in Chile are struggling to contain a huge blaze that has killed 12 people and destroyed 2,000 homes in a World Heritage Site city.

Some 500 people have been injured and 10,000 forced to leave their homes as the fire spreads through Valparaiso.

Helicopters and planes were used to drop water on hotspots around Chile's second-largest port.

However, firefighters in some parts of the city could do little but watch neighbourhoods burn.

Strong winds fanned flames and caused hot ash to rain down over wooden houses, while narrow streets were clogged with abandoned vehicles, preventing crews reaching some properties.

Shelters around Valparaiso were overflowing, as Chile's national emergency office warned the blaze would not be extinguished soon.

President Michelle Bachelet declared the entire city a catastrophe zone and said the fire could be the worst in the city's history.

"It's a tremendous tragedy," she added.

Valparaiso, a picturesque city that is home to 250,000 people, is surrounded by hills that form a natural amphitheatre.

Most people live in colourful houses on steep slopes served by cable cars and staircases.

However, these properties are often built on land not fit for housing, far away from municipal water supplies.

The city's mayor Jorge Castro told Chile's 24H channel: "We are too vulnerable as a city. We have been the builders and architects of our own danger."

The fire, which began in a forest close to one of Valparaiso's hilltop communities, is already the worst since 50 people were killed when a blaze tore through the city in 1953.

Damage from another fire in 2007 and an earthquake three years later is still being repaired.