Via The Santiago Times, an English-language paper: Drought, gas and Valparaíso's 'chaotic' sprawl made for 'perfect fire'. Excerpt:
Thousands of Valparaíso’s hillside homes have been destroyed and more than 10,000 residents evacuated in what emergency responders are calling the “perfect fire.”
President Michelle Bachelet declared the city a catastrophe zone after two days of blazes forced the evacuation of more than 12,000 residents and destroyed more than 2,000 homes, leaving an estimated 8,000 people homeless.
There have been at least 12 confirmed deaths associated with the fires, though other sources place the number as high as 14, and more than 500 have been injured, mostly due to smoke inhalation.
According to the National Emergency Office (Onemi), a force of approximately 5,000 people, including firefighters, police officers, military units and other emergency responders from throughout the country, were deployed to combat the flames, help with cleanup efforts and maintain order.
Although it was initially thought the fires were contained some 24 hours after sparking Saturday afternoon, strong winds reignited several blazes Sunday. Eight of the coastal city’s 42 hilltop communities have been affected by the fires. Some the most heavily damaged hills include Cerro La Cruz and Cerro El Litre.
The Santiago Times correspondent Sandra Segall reports from Valparaíso that emergency responders have contained many of the blazes as of press time. However, fires still burn on Cerro Ramaditas and Roucant, the latest hills affected by the disaster. A preventive evacuation has also been ordered for Cerro San Roque.
Authorities caution that control is tenuous, largely influenced by the weather, especially wind.
Experts say conditions in Valparaíso’s densely populated hillsides are dangerously susceptible to large, fast-spreading fires.
Years of drought and unseasonably high temperatures provided easily combustible fuel while strong coastal winds spread embers and flames quickly throughout surrounding hillsides.
A lack of municipal fire hydrants and water sources on many hilltops also makes extinguishing the blazes particularly difficult. Furthermore, some large gas canisters in most homes — commonly used for cooking, heating water, etc. — have exploded when exposed to the flames, endangering emergency workers.
BioBioChile reports 2,500 houses destroyed, over 11,000 homeless, and 15 dead.