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Thousands evacuated as forest fire rages

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 3:00 AM
Plumes of smoke from a wild fire rise over Valparaiso, Chile, last Friday.

SANTIAGO, (AP):

A wildfire burning near Chile's Pacific coast forced more than 7,000 people to flee their homes and threatened to spread into the cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, officials said yesterday.

Fire fighters were working to contain the blaze, which started last Friday afternoon at an illegal dump near Valparaiso. It quickly spread in strong winds, forcing evacuations from several

neighbourhoods.

Authorities declared a state of emergency and were bracing for the possible need to evacuate thousands of other residents, said Deputy Interior Secretary Mahmud Aleuy.

"It's not going to rain in the area, and there will be high temperatures; so a state of red alert will be maintained all day," said Aleuy.

The fire is blamed for causing the death of a woman in her 60s who suffered cardiac arrest. Some 21 people were injured, including 15 fire fighters, Aleuy said. Five of the fire fighters were badly injured, but their lives were not in danger.

The fire comes nearly one year after a blaze tore through Valparaiso neighbourhoods, leaping from one hilltop to another. Some 15 people were killed, more than 500 injured and nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed.

Aleuy yesterday said fire fighters were making progress to contain the fire. Chile's Emergency Office estimated about 740 acres (300 hectares) had been affected by early yesterday.

The government asked people to avoid travelling to either of the coastal cities, both of which are popular weekend destinations, especially during the Southern Hemisphere's summer months.

Valparaiso, about 50 miles (85 kilometres) northwest of the capital, Santiago, has a vibrant port and is home to Chile's national legislature.

The city, known for its colourful, tightly packed neighbourhoods which hug steep hillsides, was declared a United Nation World Heritage Site in 2003.