A wildfire, which originated in a woodland area near Valparaiso, began spreading through Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, Chile, Saturday night and has continued into Sunday. According to ONEMI (Chile’s National Emergency Office), the wildfire has engulfed roughly 660 acres of land, leaving at least 3000 people homeless and killing 4.
Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile, declared the zone a disaster area and issued a state of emergency. This will allow armed forces to aid in stopping the wildfire and evacuating the inhabitants in danger. Valparaiso boasts a population of approximately 270,000. It is unknown how many of those people will be in danger before the wildfire is finally put out. So far, several thousand people have been evacuated, but there will be more throughout the day.
Over 500 firefighters tried to push the wildfire back, from land and air, but were met with strong gusts of wind that hampered their attempts.
The local mayor, Ricardo Bravo, told La Prensa “This is the worst disaster I’ve seen in Valparaiso. Now we fear that the fire could spread into the city center, which would increase the seriousness of this terrible emergency.”
As of right now, the wildfire is only 50 miles from Santiago, the capital city of Chile. Santiago has a population of over 6-million. If the wildfire crosses into the capital the number of people in danger will raise from thousands to millions.
Mayor Jorge Castro said that the wildfire has already raged through 12 neighborhoods and has destroyed upwards of 500 homes. The neighborhoods in flames are not the only one’s affected. Several neighborhoods in Chile are now experiencing power outages and lack of drinking water due to the fire. “Valparaiso is without electricity at the moment and this means the flame column is creating a Dante-esque panorama and is advancing in an apparently uncontrollable manner,” Castro added.
La Polvora, Chile is under red alert as well, according to The National Office of Emergency. La Polvora has had approximately 150 acres of bushes, grass land and eucalyptus burned.
The cause of the wildfire is under investigation, but there may be no answers until it is finally out. In February, 2013, a 27-year-old man was arrested for starting a different fire in the hills of Valparaiso, Chile. That fire, allegedly accidental, caused the evacuation of roughly 1,200 people, destroyed over 100 homes and injured approximately 27 people, 5 of whom were children.