Over 200 homes destroyed as wildfires sweep through Valparaiso, Chile


More than 200 homes were destroyed after forest fires swept through the city of Valparaiso, Chile on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019, leaving around 700 people homeless.

The blaze in the low-income area of the Chilean seaside city continued through Christmas Day, December 25, and was worsened by dry weather and harsh wind. Hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain the fast-moving fires.

Military units and helicopters were deployed to help fight the flames and evacuate the residents to shelters.

In a news conference, the government regional leader of Valparaiso Jorge Martinez Duran said the fires were allegedly ignited on purpose.

Chilean Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said in a post on social media that authorities were working to investigate and "there will be no impunity" for those who will be found accountable.

Dozens of houses were completely destroyed, while residents tried to salvage what's left of their properties.

A 78-year-old resident named Marta Pinto said her granddaughter spotted the fire coming down the hill and raised the alarm.

"They took me to the house of a niece because I suffer from lung disease," she said. "My husband arrived and said, 'Love, we have lost everything.' I've cried all my tears already. My heart is so sore for everything that has happened to us, to our neighbors, in this tremendous tragedy."

68-year-old Juan Silva Suazo said he lost all of the possessions he spent 45 years accumulating.

"So many years of sacrifice, it has cost me so much to make my house and now that I´m retired, I have no way of making it back," he said.

"I have polio, I cannot stand for a long time, or sit for a long time either as I have osteoporosis in my hips, knees, and feet. We are sleeping in a bathroom right now, it's terrible."

Blumel noted that progress has been made in containing the fire. "But unfortunately more than 200 homes are already destroyed," he confirmed.

"This isn't just about the numbers– there are families behind this to whom we have to answer," Chilean Housing Minister Cristian Monckeberg said at a news conference.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera expressed grief on social media, saying, "We deeply regret the fire that affects so many families in the hills of Valparaiso and especially on Christmas Eve."

Pinera added that a working group had been set up to assist the affected families and begin reconstruction.

Valparaiso is located about 113 km (70 miles) northwest of the capital Santiago and is a popular tourist destination known for its colorful houses, idyllic hills, and historic old town.

The city has been ravaged by wildfires in the past. In 2014, fires destroyed 2 000 homes and killed 12 people in the city.

Featured image credit: Ruptly/YouTube

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