12 dead in Chile wildfire; 2,000 homes consumed

Story highlights

Strong winds are fanning the flames in Valparaiso

500 firefighters from seven provinces are battling the fire, but wind is complicating efforts

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency

CNN  — 

Chile poured firefighters and police into the battle against a wildfire that swept through hundreds of homes in the Pacific coastal city of Valparaiso, leaving at least 12 dead, according to an official.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo reported at least 2,000 homes had been destroyed by the blaze, leaving some 8,000 people without a place to live.

Earlier, Chile’s National Emergency Office’s website, citing police, had said that at least 16 people were dead. It was not immediately clear why the reported death tolls were different.

More than 1,200 firefighters worked to control the wind-whipped blaze in Valparaiso and the suburb of Vina del Mar, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday.

The wind hampered firefighters’ ability to create firebreaks, and the blaze had spread to more than 2,000 acres, Penailillo said.

“It’s been one of the worst fires in history,” said Fernando Reseio, the fire superintendent in Vina del Mar.

Bachelet said the firefighters were backed up by 17 aircraft and that additional police were being brought in to prevent looting in the areas abandoned by their residents. Many of the survivors suffered burns, and the most seriously burned patients were being transferred to hospitals in the capital, Santiago, about 75 miles away, the president said.

In images broadcast by CNN sister network CNN Chile, residents could be seen fleeing the flames overnight. The network reported that the sweeping fire is endangering thousands more homes.

In addition, plans were being drawn up to evacuate inmates at Valparaiso prison as a preventive measure, Mayor Jorge Castro said. The city is under a red alert, said emergency office spokesman Ricardo Toro.

Earlier, Bachelet had declared a state of emergency, which legally allows armed forces to get involved.

CNN’s Michael Roa and Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.