Santiago, April 14 (IANS/EFE) At least 11 people have died in a huge fire that is still burning in the hillside neighbourhoods surrounding the Chilean capital in Valparaiso, the Carabineros militarised police force said Sunday, lowering the death toll from the 16 fatalities the force had reported earlier.
Some 10,000 residents have been evacuated and about 1,000 homes have been destroyed in the blaze, the largest in the history of this port city, where 250,000 people live and where Chile’s parliament and navy are headquartered.
About 20 aircraft, including helicopters and cistern planes, are being used to combat the fire’s many active foci, while on the ground more than 3,500 men belonging to the forestry brigades, firefighters, police, army and navy are working to control the blaze.
The fire chief of ViÃ±a del Mar, Marcos Quintana, told Canal 24 Horas that putting out the fire, which has already burned some 2,000 acres, will take several days, in contrast to the earlier hopes of firefighters and forestry service brigades to be able to bring the blaze under control by Sunday afternoon.
The streets of Valparaiso – located 120 km west of Santiago – are being patrolled by soldiers, in accord with the state of emergency decreed Saturday by President Michelle Bachelet, who declared the city a disaster zone.
The president arrived at the Valparaiso City Hall early Sunday morning to head up an emergency committee after it had announced that government aid would be provided to the 5,000 or so people who had suffered property damage from the fire, which started Saturday.
Weather conditions – including heavy winds and unusually high temperatures in the zone for this time of year, the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn – are making it difficult for authorities to extinguish the fire.