Thousands flee central Chile forest fire

SANTIAGO: A forest fire swept through central Chile over the weekend, forcing the evacuation of 6,000 people and destroying more than a dozen dwellings, emergency officials said Monday.

The blaze began in forested areas of Vina del Mar, a popular resort area in the Valparaiso region, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago, where hundreds of poor families live in illegally-built houses of wood and tin.

According to Ricardo Toro, the director of ONEMI, no one was killed or injured in the blaze.

The cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar were put on alert as the fire tore through 230 hectares (570 acres) in just a few hours, amid strong winds and soaring temperatures.
Police and army personnel helped people carry their personal belongings in vehicles, while firefighters and forest brigades fought the flames to keep them from reaching camps.

Authorities said additional brigades and helicopters will be sent Monday to continue fighting the fire.

Regional authorities meanwhile suspended Monday classes in the city of Vina del Mar, where 10 families who lost their homes were being housed in shelters.

Officials announced an investigation to determine the cause of the blaze.

Earlier this year, forest fires ravaged southern Chile, killing 11 people and destroying large swaths of land.

Fires are common in Chile´s parched forests during the southern hemisphere´s summer. Most are caused by human activity.

Fire activity this year was worse than usual because of a drought attributed by environmentalists to climate change.