Fire devastates 40 wooden houses in Chile

SANTIAGO (AP) – An uncontrolled fire destroyed some 40 fragile wooden houses in a poor neighborhood in Iquique, northern Chile, on Monday, leaving some 300 homeless, while firefighters faced severe difficulties in supplying their trucks with water.

Álvaro Hormazábal, director of the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior (ONEMI) of Tarapacá, said that the incident broke out after noon and that now “there is no water, the nearest tap is about 200 meters away.”

The wooden houses, which were built on the slopes of a hill in Iquique, 1,800 kilometers north of Santiago, in the Laguna Verde sector, lack any urban organization, and their narrow passageways prevent the entry of fire trucks, for what the firefighters had to enter on foot carrying hoses.

Hormazábal estimated the number of homes consumed by the fire at about 40 homes and preliminarily estimated the victims at about 300, although “it is difficult to make an estimate,” he said.

However, the mayor of Iquique, Mauricio Soria, said that it is too early to talk about figures, because “here we do not have to talk about houses as constituted by a property, in a few meters there can be 5, 10 or 15 families.”

Television footage from the scene showed Laguna Verde residents getting dangerously close to the flames to try to rescue some property, while blocking firefighters trying to lay their hoses.

In Iquique there are many poor neighborhoods or camps in the hills that rise behind the city, and many of its inhabitants are unauthorized immigrants seeking a better life in Chile.

“Many people live here who have come to the city of Iquique, to this part, and many foreigners, so we don’t have their documentation either,” said the mayor.

Soria said that at the moment there are no reports of injuries and that the Municipality is already preparing shelters for 200 to 300 people because the number of victims is unknown.

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