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12 dead in Chile wildfire

Valparaiso devastated by wildfire

April 15, 2014

"It’s been one of the worst fires in history"

—Fernando Reseio

Wildfires have turned the Jewel of the Pacific into a vision of hell. The Chilean port of Valparaiso, famed for its UNESCO-listed historic quarter, has been engulfed in fire, blotting out the sun and causing at least 12 deaths.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo reported at least 3,000 homes had been destroyed by the blaze, leaving some 8,000 people without a place to live. The wind hampered firefighter’s ability to create firebreaks, and the blaze has spread to more than 2,000 acres, Penailillo said.

The fires that started Saturday and leaped from hilltop to densely populated hilltop have been contained but not extinguished. Every stiff wind threatens to lift the burning embers, putting still more neighborhoods at risk.

The mayor, Jorge Castro, compared the disaster to a scene from Dante’s Inferno. “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 said in a TV interview on April 12th, the day the blaze began.

More than 1,200 firefighters worked to control the wind-whipped blaze in Valparaiso and the suburb of Vina del Mar, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday.

“Dante\\\'s wildfire inferno in Chile\\\'s historic port city,” said Fernando Reseio, the fire superintendent in Vina del mar.

“We think this is a tremendous tragedy, but…. It is also a tremendous opportunity to do things right,” Bachelet said in an interview with El Diario de Cooperativa. “What we’re looking at in terms of reconstruction, is how to rebuild in a more orderly manner, better and more worthy” of Valparaiso’s status as a World Heritage City.

The fire is thought to have started in the forested hills that ring the port city, 110 kilometers west of the capital Santiago. Strong winds off the Pacific spread the flames rapidly, displacing tens of thousands of people and destroying at least 3,000 homes, although the historic quarter’s late 19th –century wooden buildings were spared.

After a state of emergency was declared, thousands of troops backed around 1,200 firefighters to bring the worst of the fires under control. The blaze is the second catastrophe to strike Chile this month, following a magnitude 8.2 earthquake that hit the north on April 1st, killing six people.

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