SANTIAGO: A fire raging in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso has killed at least seven people and destroyed 500 homes, officials said Sunday.
Thousands have been evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.
Firefighters struggled as high winds rained hot ash over the wooden houses and narrow streets of the city of 250,000, where people use staircases to reach some of the neighborhoods that hug steep hills between the forest and the sea.
President Michelle Bachelet arrived Sunday to oversee an emergency committee’s response. She declared the entire city a catastrophe zone, putting Chile’s military in charge of maintaining order as more than 5,000 people were evacuated amid the smoke and flames.
Seven people were confirmed dead, police Gen. Julio Pineda said, and the toll was expected to rise.
It was the worst fire to hit the picturesque seaside city since 1953, when 50 people were killed and every structure was destroyed on several of the city’s hills.