Unbound news

Fire displaces thousands, destroys homes in Chile

Updated April 16, 2014

VALPARAISO, Chile — A fast-moving fire that started April 12 has destroyed hundreds of homes and left at least 12 dead, including two sponsored elders.

Fire in Chile
A view of the devastation caused by the fire.

Luis Olivares, Unbound staff member in Valparaiso, reported that the deceased sponsored elderly members are Manuel Santiago Pérez Rojas, 81, and Juana Rosa Vega Ruz, 85. Unbound has notified the sponsors of the deceased elders.

Olivares said about 400 sponsored friends and their families live in or near the area affected by the fire. Staffers will continue to communicate with families to determine how many have been affected.

"We have done some research in our database, and we believe we could have an average number of 300 families [who lost their homes and belongings]," Olivares said.

The fire spread rapidly from strong Pacific coast winds across the forest and hilly neighborhoods, according to Reuters. Pockets of fire still burn in the higher parts of the city. The hillside and closely-spaced homes make it difficult to fight fires.

Olivares said more than 10,000 people have evacuated the area, and a former Unbound staffer's father died in the fire.

"Unfortunately, people have lost everything they had, and it all came down to ashes," Olivares said. "Saturday, we began providing evacuation shelters for many of the sponsored families."

Fire in Chile
Burned-out homes on a Valparaiso hillside show the scope of
devastation in the fire's wake.

People from the affected areas are being offered shelter at local public schools. Others are staying with relatives or friends. Unbound staff members quickly established an emergency plan to help sponsored friends affected by the fire, which continued to burn April 13. The staff is working hard to deliver extra benefits and assistance to affected families.

"We don't know when this will end," Olivares said, "but it has our cities surrounded with military, police, ashes, helicopters, sirens and people crying in the streets.

"I have never been in a war, but this is what I feel a war zone would look like."

Unbound works with more than 3,800 children and 645 elders in Chile through our sponsorship program based in Valparaiso.

We will continue to update this report as more information becomes available. Please join the Unbound worldwide community as we keep those impacted by this tragic fire in our thoughts and prayers.

(Henry Flores, director of Unbound’s communications center in El Salvador, contributed information for this story.)

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