Firefighters contain coastal wildfire in Chile, maintain red alert in case winds change



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SANTIAGO, Chile — Firefighters in Chile gained the upper hand Sunday on a coastal blaze that had gotten close to the neighboring cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, but officials said strong winds could still pose a threat.

The fire had been "pretty well contained" and flames close to houses had been put out, said Aaron Cavieres, director of the National Forestry Corporation.

The containment was "allowing people to return to their homes," said Cavieres. Several thousand people were evacuated over the weekend, and by Sunday most had returned.

Still, the National Emergency Office was maintaining a red alert in case there were changes in the winds. Valparaiso, with its large port, and Vina, with popular beaches, often experience sudden bursts of strong winds coming off the Pacific Ocean.

About 200 firefighters on the ground and water-dumping helicopters and planes were battling the wildfire, which started Friday afternoon at an illegal dump and quickly spread.

The weekend fire left a 66-year-old woman dead, from cardiac arrest, and injured 33 people, including 19 firefighters. Five of the firefighters were badly hurt but their lives were not in danger.

No houses were reported damaged, and officials estimated that about 740 acres (300 hectares) had been burned by Sunday afternoon.

The government asked people to avoid traveling to either of the coastal cities, both popular weekend destinations, especially during the Southern Hemisphere's summer months.

The fire comes nearly one year after strong winds carried a wildfire through Valparaiso neighborhoods, leaping from one hilltop to another. That blaze killed 15 people, injured more than 500 and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes.

Valparaiso, about 78 miles (127 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Santiago, has a vibrant port and is home to Chile's national legislature.

The city, known for its colorful, tightly packed neighborhoods that hug steep hillsides, was declared a U.N. World Heritage Site in 2003.

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