A large fire broke out in the coastal Chilean city of Valparaiso on Monday evening, burning at least 100 homes, prompting the evacuation of about 400 people and sending plumes of smoke high in the air.
Chilean Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said in televised remarks that 19 people had been slightly injured, including 16 suffering from respiratory issues. Power was initially cut to about 47,000 customers in the region, but had been restored to all but 350, he said.
Dozens of fire brigades from Valparaiso and neighboring municipalities were deployed to fight the blaze, and investigators had been sent in to determine the cause of the fire, according to the government.
Images on social media showed huge brown-gray columns of smoke emanating from a neighborhood high in one of the city’s hills, and pouring into the sky and out over the Pacific Ocean.
Authorities said gusty winds and high temperatures were likely a factor in spreading the blaze.
A drought in central Chile caused a record number of forest fires in the area last year, wreaking havoc on its key forestry industry and forcing evacuations in recent weeks near the capital, Santiago, about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Valparaiso.
“This is a high-risk zone and the sector has undergone an evacuation,” Aleuy said of the affected areas of Valparaiso. “It (evacuation) has been successful, and fortunately we don’t have any tragedies to grieve.”
Valparaiso, a scenic, but gritty port city of 285,000, is the center of a metropolitan area of about 1 million, the second largest urban district in Chile.
Built on steep hillsides in an area covered in pines, many of the city’s wooden structures are susceptible to fire, especially in the poorer neighborhoods higher in the hills. In 2014, a significantly larger fire killed 13 people and burned 2,000 homes. Many smaller fires have since hit the city.
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