On the afternoon of April 12th a forest fire was initiated in the upper regions of the port city of Valparaiso, Chile. The rapid spreading of the fire to populated areas was caused by climatic conditions of high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds. The fire was so rapid that many families had no time to pack clothes or other personal belongings. They left all that they had built- their homes and family histories- behind in complete uncertainty. The affected areas consist of economically vulnerable people who, after many years of hard work, managed to build their homes. The upper regions of Valparaiso, the affected areas, are commonly known as places where extended families (brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, etc.) live on the same street and maintain strong ties to one other and the neighborhood that they built together. That is why this forest fire has not only affected nuclear families but also communities that have grown-up together sharing their lives.
The fire that continued all night has left 1,200 houses in ashes and 16 deaths of those who could not flee from their homes in time to escape the advancing flames. There are more than 500 injured who have been received medical attention in health centers. Firefighters from other cities have been called in to help the local volunteer fire department. More than 20 planes and helicopters have been working to extinguish the flames. The government has called in the army to maintain public order and to support the fire brigades in extinguishing the advancing flames. Valparaiso, her history, her people….the living treasures of the city are living a tragedy.
The local diocese has organized an outreach for the thousands affected by the fire. Local churches have been turned into hostels and centers of help. The church is accompanying those who have lost everything. What is greatly needed now are basic living supplies for more than 5,000 affected persons- non-perishable foods, blankets, and cleaning supplies.
–From the Columban Fathers in Chile