14 Mar 2015

Fire threatens historic Chilean city

7:30 pm on 14 March 2015

Chile has declared a state of emergency and the precautionary evacuation of up to 16,000 people as a forest fire threatens the historic port city of Valparaiso.

There are no immediate reports of death or injury.

Smoke billows from the forest around Valparaiso, in Chile.

Smoke billows from the forest around Valparaiso, in Chile. Photo: AFP

Valparaiso is still rebuilding after it was ravaged by fire in April last year. Fifteen people died and more than 2000 houses were destroyed.

The fire is also threatening the port city of Vina del Mar.

The interior ministry said about 4,500 people had already been evacuated and another 10,000 might need to be moved.

The fire began at an illegal garbage dump on Friday afternoon, officials said, and spread quickly fanned by strong winds.

By late Friday, Chile's Emergency Office estimated that about 300 hectares had been affected.

Emergency crews battled through the night to keep the flames from reaching residential districts in Valparaiso.

Three firefighters have been injured so far and a 67-year-old woman died of cardio-respiratory causes, the interior ministry said.

Valparaiso's poorest areas, often made up of little more than wooden huts, were worst hit by last year's devastating fire.

Entire neighbourhoods were razed to the ground and many of those who died were found in the burned-down homes they had refused to leave.