Chilean Wildfire Kills 12, Destroys 2,000 Homes

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Chile’s emergency response system generated automatic phone calls to each house in danger as the mandatory evacuations expanded. Many people stuffed their cars with possessions after getting these calls, and streets quickly became impassible. Water trucks and firefighters were stuck downhill as people abandoned their vehicles and ran. Some carried television sets and others took canisters of natural gas, fearing an explosion if flames reached their homes.

With so many hills aflame, water was in short supply even in established neighborhoods downhill. A water emergency was declared, cutting off non-essential supplies.

Shelters were overflowing. Bachelet toured some and announced that on Monday she would meet with each of her ministers to hear what each one is doing in response. “The situation is dramatic, but help is already arriving,” she said.

Maria Elizabeth Diaz, eight months pregnant and trying to rest with her two sons in a shelter set up in Valparaiso’s Greek School, said she had been hesitant to flee her home in Cerro Las Canas when she first learned that the hilltop above her was on fire.

“I didn’t want to move because I was afraid they’d rob me, but I had to flee when I saw the fire was coming down the hill,” she said. “I lost everything. Now I’ve been ordered to rest because I was having contractions. My little one knows that he can’t arrive quite yet.”

Another evacuee, Erica Gonzalez, 74, said her daughter and some neighbors had to carry her to safety because the fire burned her wheelchair.

“I was left in the street. My house was completely burned, and that of my daughter a block away,” she said, visibly upset as she hugged a grandchild.

Some people returned home Sunday to discover total destruction.

“It’s frightening, everything is burned,” said Francisca Granados, who had spent the night with friends in the neighboring city of Vina del Mar.

Thick clouds of smoke surrounded the city prison, where nine pregnant inmates were transferred to a detention facility in the nearby city of Quillota. Another 204 female inmates were being evacuated to a sports arena. More than 2,700 male inmates will remain at the prison for now, prison guard commander Tulio Arce said.

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