Death toll in Chile wildfire rises to 16; 500 homes consumed

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(CNN) — Chile poured firefighters and police into the battle against a wildfire that swept through hundreds of homes in the Pacific coastal city of Valparaiso, leaving at least 16 dead, according to Chile’s National Emergency Office’s website. The site is attributing that number to police.

The death toll was previously at 11 as officials warned that they expected it to increase. More than 1,200 firefighters worked to control the wind-whipped blaze in Valparaiso and the suburb of Vina del Mar, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said Sunday. About 500 homes had been destroyed by Sunday morning, and 10,000 people had been forced to flee, Bachelet said.

The wind hampered firefighters’ ability to create firebreaks, and the blaze had spread to nearly 2,000 acres, according to Chile’s National Emergency Office.

“It’s been one of the worst fires in history,” said Fernando Reseio, the fire superintendent in Vina del Mar.

Bachelet said the firefighters were backed up by 17 aircraft and that additional police were being brought in to prevent looting in the areas abandoned by their residents. Many of the survivors suffered burns, and the most seriously burned patients were being transferred to hospitals in the capital, Santiago, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, the president said.

In images broadcast by CNN sister network CNN Chile, residents could be seen fleeing the flames overnight. The network reported that the sweeping fire is endangering thousands more homes.

In addition, plans were being drawn up to evacuate inmates at Valparaiso prison as a preventive measure, Mayor Jorge Castro said. The city is under a red alert, said emergency office spokesman Ricardo Toro.

Earlier, Bachelet had declared a state of emergency, which legally allows armed forces to get involved.

By Nelson Quinones and Matt Smith

CNN’s Michael Roa and Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.