VALPARAISO, Chile — A raging fire leaped from hilltop to hilltop in this colorful port city throughout the night and day on Sunday, killing at least 12 people and destroying 2,000 homes. More than 10,000 people were evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.
With hot dry winds stoking the embers, some of the fires broke out again and were burning out of control as a second night fell.
The blaze began Saturday afternoon in a forested ravine next to ramshackle housing on one of the city's 42 hilltops, and spread quickly as hot ash rained down over wooden houses and narrow streets that lack municipal water systems. Electricity failed as the fire grew, with towering, sparking flames turning the night sky orange over a darkening, destroyed horizon.
Eventually, neighborhoods on six hilltops were reduced to ashes, including one hill just several blocks from Chile's parliament building. And flames broke out again on at least two of those hills, burning out of control and threatening to consume other neighborhoods.
"It's a tremendous tragedy. This could be the worst fire in the city's history," President Michelle Bachelet said as 20 helicopters and planes dropped water on hot spots.
The fire destroyed 2,000 houses by Sunday evening, and the death toll rose to 12, Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.
Authorities warned that the toll could rise once the fires cool enough for them to search for bodies. Patricio Bustos, who directs the national forensics service, said DNA tests would be needed to identify some remains.
More than 500 people were treated at hospitals, mostly for smoke inhalation.
"The people of Valparaiso have courage, have strength and they aren't alone," said Bachelet, who canceled a planned trip to Argentina and Uruguay this week.
It was the worst fire to hit the picturesque seaside city of 250,000 people since 1953, when 50 people were killed and every structure was destroyed on several of the city's hills.