Thousands evacuated as fire burns 500 homes in Chile

Thousands evacuated as fire burns 500 homes in Chile

SANTIAGO - An uncontrollable wildfire in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso destroyed 500 homes and forced the evacuation of 3,000 people as the conflagration burned into the night.

Huge tongues of fire engulfing one home after another led President Michelle Bachelet to declare the zone a disaster area late Saturday.

Thousands of people, meanwhile, watched from distant vantage points as the hills burned bright red.

A dense column of smoke advanced towards Valparaiso's port, one of Chile's largest.

The city of 270,000, whose historic quarter was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004, draws thousands of foreign and local visitors each year.

The fire, whose cause is still under investigation, led to the suspension of drinking water and power outages in several neighborhoods.

The fire passed through 12 neighborhoods, destroying 500 homes, Mayor Jorge Castro said, telling state TV channel TVN that 3,000 people had been evacuated.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said Bachelet had signed a decree authorising the army to help evacuate "the thousands and thousands of people who at this moment are being evacuated from their homes."

Penailillo said one person had been seriously injured by the fire, but that for the moment there were no known deaths.

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