Viña del Mar inferno: tragedy strikes as an uncontrolled forest fire destroys homes and claims lives

Stay updated on the latest news from Chile with our coverage of the forest fire in Viña del Mar. President Gabriel Boric has declared a state of emergency in the affected region, 120km from Santiago.

An uncontrolled forest fire devastated on Thursday night more than a hundred homes and left at least one dead in the Chilean coastal city of Viña del Mar, although it is believed that the balances may worsen when accessing the area, while firefighters continued working to contain the advance of the flames.

The government of President Gabriel Boric decreed a state of emergency of catastrophe due to public calamity in the area, located 120 kilometers from the capital, which enabled him to mobilize resources more efficiently, as well as to limit the rights of assembly and movement.

“All our efforts are focused on controlling the fire and supporting the affected families in coordination with local authorities,” Boric posted on Twitter early Friday morning. According to the government, the president analyzes traveling to the area.

Although the Undersecretary of the Interior, Manuel Monsalve, said during the night that they were trying to confirm the death of two people, he emphasized that until this morning, they had been able to corroborate the death of an 85-year-old person.

He also corrected the figure reported in the early hours of the morning by the Ministry of the Interior itself of more than 500 houses destroyed and said that the municipalities’ count had totaled 130 houses destroyed up to the early hours of Friday, although it was still being updated.

The mayor of Viña del Mar, Macarena Ripamonti, later clarified that the cadaster corresponds to the verifications of the personnel in charge, but they are estimating a range of 200 to 500 houses affected.

A forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of homes are located, in the Valparaíso Region
A forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of homes are located, in the Valparaíso Region / Photo: JAVIER TORRES – AFP

“There are 131 that are fully certified but there are many, many more, that is why we are handling ranges,” she told reporters. “Regarding the people who actually died, at this time, I prefer to keep it discreet. Some people did not escape,” he added without giving details.

The forest fire, which has already consumed 125 hectares, affected a wooded area behind the Quinta Vergara, known for hosting the famous Viña del Mar music festival, and then spread to a residential area. The municipality cleared works of art from an important museum in the same sector.

A forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of homes are located, in the Valparaíso Region
A forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of homes are located, in the Valparaíso Region / Photo: JAVIER TORRES – AFP

“The fire started in a sector called Nueva Esperanza 2000, crossed and reached these two plots of land, and then went down to the north, towards Quinta Vergara through a deep ravine,” explained Ripamonti.

The National Emergency Office (Onemi), which decreed a communal red alert for Viña del Mar, ordered the evacuation of the sectors Tranque Sur, Puerto Montt, Puerto Aysén, Cabritera, Forestal Alto, Siete Hermanas and the Felipe Camiroaga intake.

Firefighters work while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of houses are located, in the Valparaíso Region
Firefighters work while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar, where hundreds of houses are located, in the Valparaíso Region / Photo: JAVIER TORRES – AFP

The high temperatures recorded at the beginning of the summer season, together with strong winds, facilitate the spread of forest fires.

Operation

During this morning, three active areas of the fire remain active, which are considered “forest” in nature, and the weather conditions surrounding them are maintained according to yesterday’s forecast: average temperatures of 25°, with southwest winds of 30 k/h for the day.

Vehicles move along a road while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar
Vehicles move along a road while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar / Photo: JAVIER TORRES – AFP

The authority said that “it is possible to forecast the control of the fire during the day, in the current weather conditions and with the resources that are destined.”

These resources are:

  • 11 ground brigades
  • 8 helicopters
  • 2 air tankers and a coordination plane
  • 4 water trucks
A man watches the fires that affect at least 200 homes in the city of Viña del Mar
A man watches the fires that affect at least 200 homes in the city of Viña del Mar / Photo: Matias Basualdo – AP

“During the day, it is possible that the Hercules C130, which is in the Biobío region, will be transferred to collaborate in fighting the fire,” said Monsalve.

Likewise, the Armed Forces have made available 175 officers and five brigades

“An inferno”

“My little house was saved thanks to God, it was a miracle, the one next door burned down, my sister’s up here burned down and this was hell, you couldn’t stay there, it was all very unfortunate now I’m looking for my puppy that it tore off because he was scared, we are all destroyed here,” a victim who was driving in a car looking for his pet told the media 24 hours ago.

“For me this has been terrible, this is the worst thing Viña could have had, bigger than Valparaíso, right now the Christmas holidays are coming up, the New Year is coming, they lost all their things, many families,” said a neighbor from the sector Alto de Viña del Mar who saw his house affected while he was contemplating the catastrophe at the first light of day.

Firefighters work while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar
Firefighters work while a forest fire affects the hills of Viña del Mar / Photo: JAVIER TORRES – AFP

“We saw it since morning. It started around seven, I think, first, we smelled burning, and we said, ‘no, if it’s not close,’ and then it began to spread more and more. We began to see from the house here in front, and out of nowhere they told us that the fire was in the patio, to get out, they are going to evacuate everything , ”a neighbor of the Nueva Aurora population explained to Meganoticias right in front of some walls homeless that until yesterday were his home.