Huge blaze devastates historic city in Chile
A HUGE fire has engulfed a Chilean port city registered as a World Heritage site for its historic collection of wooden buildings and railways.
Eleven people have been killed and at least 500 homes destroyed in the hillsides of Valparaiso, known as the "San Francisco of the South" for its steep streets, trams and funicular railways. Fanned by strong winds from the Pacific, the fire blazed through more than 1,700 acres of forest and residential areas that sweep up from the port.
"Valparaiso is without electricity at the moment," said Jorge Castro, the mayor of the city of 270,000.
"This means the flame column is creating a Dante-esque panorama, and is advancing in an apparently uncontrollable manner."
Some 1,200 firemen were battling the blaze, using three planes and four helicopters to drop water, but could not prevent the destruction of entire districts. By yesterday morning, the scale of the devastation was clear.
"This is the worst catastrophe I've seen," said Ricardo Bravo, the regional governor. "Now we have to make sure the fire doesn't reach the city centre."
Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean president, declared a state of emergency and sent the army to patrol the streets and prevent looting. "It's a tremendous tragedy, perhaps the worst fire in the city's history", she said.
The country's Congress – which has been housed in Valparaiso, rather than the capital Santiago, since the days of General Augusto Pinochet – and the city's historic quarter, with its late 19th century architecture, were spared by the fires. (© Daily Telegraph, London)