News - April 24, 2014

Major fire in Valparaíso, Chile

Nicolette Meerstadt

In het nieuws: A big fire in the port city of Valparaíso in Chile destroyed almost 3000 houses last week and cost 15 people their lives.

Commentary by: Francisca Noya and Alexandra Lobos, both Chilean researchers at Fresh Food and Chains.

Alexandra: ‘My parents live in Valparaíso and they were at home when the fire broke out. My friends went to a reception centre straightaway and within an hour they had got things organized so as to take in people who fled from the mountains to the valley. Many of them had lost everything they had, and some of them came running down barefoot holding babies in their arms. The air was toxic for three days and it rained ash. I was constantly on the internet to keep in touch with friends and family.’

Francisca: ‘Valparaíso in the cultural heart of Chile. The beautifully painted little houses and narrow streets in the valley are a Unesco heritage site. There are 38 hills in the city, each of which forms its own neighbourhood.’

Alexandra: ‘It said in the newspaper that the fire was started when a bird got electrocuted by an electricity cable and caught fire. But nobody believes that. It is more likely that the burning of forest to clear space to build new houses got out of hand.’

Francisca: ‘Thousands of volunteers set to work immediately to help, and they formed a chain to clear the rubble. But the city has been declared a disaster area, which means the army will see to everything. Areas are being closed off, so clothing and food that has been collected cannot get to where it is needed.’

Alexandra: ‘That makes people cross; they don’t trust the government. It turned out there were no big firefighting planes, for instance, even though there have been fires before. The government is just not well enough prepared. That is why we are not waiting for them. Benefit concerts are being organized and revenues from football matches have been donated. My parents want to adopt a family so as to help them make a new start.’