Latin America & Caribbean

Valparaíso fires: Dozens of homes destroyed in Chilean city

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Media captionWatch wildfires engulf houses in Valparaíso

At least 150 houses have been destroyed by fast-moving woodland fires in the Chilean city of Valparaíso.

The fires, which spread through the Rocuant and San Roque hills, reached two poor residential areas and were still burning on Christmas Day. There have been no reports of any casualties.

High summer temperatures and strong winds helped spread the flames.

Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said evidence gathered so far indicated the fires had been started deliberately.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Residents returned to see the charred remains of their homes

Power was cut to about 90,000 customers in the area as a precautionary measure. Two schools were turned into shelters for the affected residents, who were forced to flee in the middle of Christmas Eve celebrations.

Mayor Jorge Sharp said a state of emergency had been declared in the city, some 100km (62 miles) from the capital, Santiago.

A video posted on social media showed a car next to where a fire started. Prosecutors were investigating the footage as well as reports from residents that cars were seen in the hills affected moments before the fires began, Emol website reports.

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Image caption A number of houses were gutted by the fires
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption All of Valparaíso's firefighters were deployed

Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker visited the areas and admitted that the firefighters were struggling to contain the fires.

Nearly 120 hectares (445 acres) of grassland have already been ravaged.

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Image caption Firefighting helicopters have also been deployed
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Residents have desperately tried to salvage their personal belongings in the festive period

On Twitter, President Sebastián Piñera said: "We deeply regret the fire that affects so many families in the hills of Valparaíso and especially on Christmas Eve."

Valparaíso, in central Chile, is one of country's largest cities and a major port on the Pacific. It is also a popular tourist destination in South America.

In 2017, the central Chilean town of Santa Olga was destroyed by wildfires.

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