Fire in historic Chilean city 'practically' controlled

2 min

Santiago (AFP)

A large fire that burned 150 homes in the historic port city of Valparaiso, Chile, has been "practically" brought under control, an official said Tuesday.

Monday's fire forced dozens of residents to take refuge in shelters and devoured green hillsides in the Laguna Verde neighborhood, on the southern outskirts of the colonial city.

"It is practically controlled. We just have to finish off the fire. Once that's done, we'll start clearing the debris and begin rebuilding," said Mayor Gabriel Aldoney.

But authorities have warned the weather could complicate matters. High temperatures and strong winds were forecast for Tuesday afternoon in Valparaiso, where it is mid-summer.

Hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to battle the blaze Monday, along with water-dumping airplanes and helicopters.

The cause of the blaze was not known.

The fire left 19 people hurt, most suffering from smoke inhalation.

Nearly 150 people have sought refuge in emergency shelters.

Valparaiso's many hills, narrow streets and wooden houses make it vulnerable to fires.

Last March, a fire killed one person and destroyed 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of woods around the city.

And in 2014, wildfires killed 15 people and destroyed some 3,000 houses.

Located 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of the capital Santiago, Valparaiso is the seat of the Chilean Congress and a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Dubbed the "jewel of the Pacific," it spans 40 hills, offering stunning views of the sea.

Thousands of tourists stroll its narrow cobblestone streets and ride cable cars up the steep hills each year.

The city was a famous port of call in its heyday, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th.

But the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 brought its glory days to an abrupt end.

Today, it relies heavily on tourism, and living standards are lower than the average in Chile.