A massive forest fire has raged through the Chilean port city of Valparaiso, killing at least two people and destroying hundreds of homes, officials have confirmed.
Thousands of people have been evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.
Firefighters were having difficulty combating the blaze because of the topography of the city, which is surrounded by dozens of steep hills where most people live.
President Michelle Bachelet has declared the city a catastrophe zone, which puts the armed forces in charge of maintaining order and evacuating thousands of people affected by the smoke and flames.
In pictures: Huge fire in Chile
In pictures: Huge fire in Chile
1/10 Fire in Valparaiso
Authorities decreed a red alert for the area after the fire consumed more than 100 houses
2/10 Fire in Valparaiso
A local stares at houses in flames during the blaze
3/10 Fire in Valparaiso
A forest fire burns in Valparaiso
4/10 Fire in Valparaiso
A group of firefighters stand next to burning homes
5/10 Fire in Valparaiso
At least two people were killed during the blaze
6/10 Fire in Valparaiso
Flames rip through the port city of Valparaiso, 110 km west of Santiago, Chile
7/10 Fire in Valparaiso
A person tries to extinguish flames as sparks fly during a forest fire in Valparaiso
8/10 Fire in Valparaiso
Firefighters work in Valparaiso. More than 10,000 people were evacuated as an army of firefighters battled a killer blaze
Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images
9/10 Fire in Valparaiso
Destroyed houses are seen at the location where a forest fire burned several neighbourhoods in the hills in Valparaiso
10/10 Fire in Valparaiso
Firefighters work to put out a fire in Valparaiso
“This is the worst disaster I have seen,” regional governor Ricardo Bravo said. “Now we fear that the fire will spread to the center of the city, which would increase the severity of the emergency.”
Volunteer firefighters found the charred remains of two elderly people on a street in the port area, Chilean navy Adm. Julio Leiva said. No further details were given about the deaths.
Thick clouds of smoke surrounded the city's prison and nine pregnant inmates were transferred to a detention facility in the nearby city of Quillota. Prison authorities were evacuating another 204 female inmates to a sports arena. The more than 2,700 male inmates will remain at the prison for the time being, prison guard commander Tulio Arce said.
Valparaiso Mayor Jorge Castro said “at least 500 homes have been destroyed by the fire.” He said shelters for those forced to flee have been set up. The city was experiencing cuts to the electricity supply, he said.
While firefighters, police and forest rangers battled the blaze, Chilean marines in combat gear patrolled streets in the city to maintain order and prevent looting.
The fire started Saturday afternoon in hills on the edge of the city and spread rapidly because of strong winds. Hot ash rained down on the city early Sunday, causing respiratory problems among the population, especially children and the elderly.
Valparaiso is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of the capital, Santiago.Reuse content