VIÑA DEL MAR/VALPARAISO, Chile – The wildfire that has scorched some 460 hectares (1,100 acres) of pastureland and brush surrounding the Chilean coastal cities of Valparaiso and Viña del Mar has now been contained though it remains active, the government said on Saturday.
Due to the threat of the blaze, which started Friday afternoon and which at a certain stage threatened to expand to inhabited areas, the authorities decreed the affected area to be a catastrophe zone and some 7,000 people were evacuated, though on Saturday morning they were able to return home.
“We have used the latest technology to predict scenarios and to employ what was needed to control the fire,” the director of the ONEMI emergency management office, Ricardo Toro, told reporters.
That was why they were “able to contain the blaze,” though it hasn’t yet been extinguished once and for all, he said.
In fact, weather conditions forecast for Saturday afternoon could make the situation worse, since gusts of wind of up to 30 kph (20 mph) are expected, along with high temperatures and very low humidity.
“People have to keep calm but they must be ready to take the right measures in case they have to evacuate again if the wind changes,” Toro said.
For his part, the director of the National Forestry Corporation, or Conaf, Aaron Caviedes, said that eight aircraft and the same number of helicopters have flowed to the area of the fire to aid the firefighters as they work to keep the flames from spreading.
“During the afternoon, conditions could get worse, so we’re getting ready for that and we’ll keep the emphasis on protecting the population,” Caviedes said.
When the fire broke out Friday in an unauthorized garbage dump, a 55-year-old woman died of a heart attack and 15 firefighters and six civilians were injured.
The electricity supply in several areas of Valparaiso remains blacked out and some access roads to Valparaiso are blocked.
Aside from the fire in Valparaiso, seven other dangerous blazes remain active in the central-southern region of the country and have been difficult to control because of the unusually high temperatures for the time of year, which is the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer.
In April 2014 Valparaiso suffered the worst blaze in its history, which left a number of people dead, thousands evacuated and hundreds of homes destroyed.