16 killed in huge fire in Chile

Santiago, April 14 (IANS/EFE) At least 16 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.

Some 10,000 residents have been evacuated and more than 500 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.

Some 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 streets of Valparaiso 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 to head up an emergency committee after it had announced that aid would be provided to those who had suffered property damage from the fire, which started Saturday.

Weather conditions are not helping authorities extinguish the fire – with heavy winds and unusually high temperatures in the zone for this time of year, the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn – although officials say they are confident that they can bring it under control within the coming hours.

–IANS/EFE

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IANS