At least two people have been killed and over 400 homes were burned down in a fire Friday at Viña del Mar, 120 km west of the Chilean capital. Authorities foresee it will take several days to extinguish the fire and the national government has declared a state of catastrophe for the Valparaíso region.
In this legal frame, National Defense officials will have the power to limit constitutional rights and to take control and requisition all the goods required to face the emergency.
There was a very rapid response at the beginning of this fire, but in spite of this, as a result of the place where it is developing, the weather conditions, the wind, and the presence of flammable material, it is spreading very aggressively and rapidly, Undersecretary of the Interior Manuel Monsalve explained.
According to Chilean media, 11 firefighting ground brigades have been deployed in addition to 10 helicopters, while the arrival of two air tankers was awaited later in the day.
There are many areas where they cannot enter because the fire has not ended and we have active outbreaks, Interior Minister Carolina Tohá pointed out from the Valparaíso region.
It all began as a forest fire in the hills of Viña del Mar and moved forward due to strong gusts of wind through ravines until it reached low-income populated areas with poorly-built houses and narrow streets.
Viña del Mar's Fire Department Chief Patricio Brito first said that approximately 200 houses were burning, but as the hours went by he confirmed two deaths and over 400 houses burned, while Viña Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said Friday that authorities were speaking of between 200 to 500 houses affected.
President Gabriel Boric Font said that if the fire was caused intentionally we will move heaven, sea, and earth to find those responsible. He admitted that his government was working together with the Public Prosecutor's Office and the Investigation Police to investigate the emergency and praised firefighters for their efforts.
”From the experience we have had with these disasters that from time to time hit the country (...) it is important that the authorities are on the ground with the people supporting them, Boric said. We are here to facilitate and cooperate, not to take a photo and hinder the work of the firefighters. The important thing is to put out the fire and support the families in everything they need, particularly ahead of the Christmas celebrations.
We will not leave them alone, Boric insisted. Our priority as the Chilean government is in the safety of the people and we will continue to deploy all the necessary resources to control the emergency.”