Forest fire destroys homes in hills above Chilean port city

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Fire driven by strong winds swept over forest land in the hills outside the Chilean port of Valparaiso on Monday, destroying dozens of homes, injuring at least 19 people and sending a pall of heavy smoke down onto the city.

Authorities said the blaze started Monday afternoon in the Laguna Verde area and spread to Playa Ancha hill, where many wooden houses are located. About 400 people were ordered to evacuate as a precaution, officials said.

Interior Undersecretary Mahmud Aleuy said about 100 homes had been damaged, and regional Gov. Gabriel Aldoney said 500 more houses were "at risk." Aleuy said 16 of those injured had respiratory problems.

Fire brigades, soldiers and forest workers were in the hills combating the fire, which was fueled by winds up to 25 miles per hour (30 kph), low humidity and high temperatures. The fight was complicated because the area is crisscrossed by many ravines, the roads are narrow and water mains are scarce.

People in Valparaiso wore masks if they ventured into the streets trying to protect themselves against the smoke and fumes.

In 2014, a forest fire destroyed 2,500 homes and killed 15 people in the hills that surround Valparaiso. The colonial-era city known for colorfully painted cliff-top houses was designated a U.N. World Heritage Site in 2003.

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