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Chile wildfire reported contained; many evacuees return home

March 14, 2015

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A wildfire burning near the Pacific ports of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar was contained but still a threat Saturday, authorities said, as many of 7,000 people who had been evacuated began returning home.

About 200 firefighters continued to battle the blaze, which started Friday afternoon at an illegal dump and was quickly spread by strong winds, leading officials to declare a state of emergency.

By Saturday afternoon, officials said the fire had been hemmed in, but warned that high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds remained a danger to rekindle the blaze. The alert remained in effect.

“The fire is not controlled, but it is contained,” Deputy Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said. “What has been done is work to contain so the fire cannot expand.”

The blaze was blamed for the death of a woman in her 60s who suffered a heart attack. Twenty-one people also were injured, including 15 firefighters, Aleuy said. Five of the firefighters were badly injured, but their lives were not in danger.

The fire comes nearly one year after a wildfire tore through Valparaiso neighborhoods, leaping from one hilltop to another. The blaze killed 15 people, injured more than 500 and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes.

No houses were reported damaged from the latest fire, which Chile’s Emergency Office estimated had affected about 740 acres (300 hectares) by early Saturday.

The government asked people to avoid traveling to either of the coastal cities, both of which are popular weekend destinations, especially during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months.

Valparaiso, about 50 miles (85 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Santiago, has a vibrant port and is home to Chile’s national legislature.

The city, known for its colorful, tightly packed neighborhoods which hug steep hillsides, was declared a U.N. World Heritage Site in 2003.

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