Up to 16,000 people evacuated as fire threatens Chile port city Valparaiso

VALPARAÍSO, Chile (AFP) - Chile declared a state of emergency and precautionary evacuation on Friday of up to 16,000 people as a raging forest fire threatened the historic port city of Valparaiso, where 15 people died in blazes last year.

The fire started on Friday in an area of grassland and pine forest near a major thoroughfare connecting Valparaiso – a UNESCO world heritage site once dubbed “the jewel of the Pacific” – with several villages.  Warm temperatures and strong winds fanned the flames and the blaze was spreading, destroying about 500 hectares of land and advancing to within just a few miles of Valparaiso.

The precautionary evacuation was carried out under the supervision of military and police in villages near the city, and evacuees were moved to shelters.  A 67-year-old woman died from a heart attack, authorities said, after the national emergency office declared a red alert in the area.

“We have taken the decision to declare a state of emergency in Vina del Mar and Valparaiso... and preventive evacuation in a range from 4,000 to 16,000 people, depending on the progress of the fire,” said Mahmud Aleuy, Deputy Interior Secretary.

Valparaiso is still rebuilding after it was ravaged by fire in April last year.  Thousands of homes were destroyed in the flames, particularly in Valparaiso’s poorer neighbourhoods, perched precariously on the coastal city’s tinder-dry hillsides, where dwellings built mostly of wood with tin roofs quickly became engulfed.

The port city of 270,000 is about 120 kilometres from the capital Santiago.