Thousands evacuated as fire burns 500 homes in Chile

Smoke from a forest fire is seen in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Smoke from a forest fire is seen in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People look at smoke from a forest fire in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People look at smoke from a forest fire in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A local stares at houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A local stares at houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A forest fire burns in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiagoon on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A forest fire burns in Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiagoon on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
View of houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile, on April 12, 2014. Four people have died in a huge fire that on Sunday, April 13, 2014, was consuming the outskirts of Chile's port city of Valparaiso and was a
View of houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile, on April 12, 2014. Four people have died in a huge fire that on Sunday, April 13, 2014, was consuming the outskirts of Chile's port city of Valparaiso and was advancing unchecked towards its Unesco-listed historic centre, destroying hundreds of homes along the way and forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people. -- PHOTO: AFP
A local stares at houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A local stares at houses in flames during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Locals and firefighters get ready to extinguish a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Locals and firefighters get ready to extinguish a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter stands next to burnig houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter stands next to burnig houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter stares at burning houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter stares at burning houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
View of burning houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
View of burning houses during a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A general view shows a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A general view shows a fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter truck stands near houses on fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter truck stands near houses on fire in Valparaiso, 110km west of Santiago, Chile on April 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

SANTIAGO (AFP) - An uncontrollable wildfire in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso destroyed 500 homes and forced the evacuation of 3,000 people as the conflagration burned into the night.

Huge tongues of fire engulfing one home after another led President Michelle Bachelet to declare the zone a disaster area late Saturday.

Thousands of people, meanwhile, watched from distant vantage points as the hills burned bright red.

A dense column of smoke advanced towards Valparaiso's port, one of Chile's largest.

The city of 270,000, whose historic quarter was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004, draws thousands of foreign and local visitors each year.

The fire, whose cause is still under investigation, led to the suspension of drinking water and power outages in several neighborhoods.

The fire passed through 12 neighborhoods, destroying 500 homes, Mayor Jorge Castro said, telling state TV channel TVN that 3,000 people had been evacuated.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said Ms Bachelet had signed a decree authorising the army to help evacuate "the thousands and thousands of people who at this moment are being evacuated from their homes."

Mr Penailillo said one person had been seriously injured by the fire, but that for the moment there were no known deaths.