Deadly Forest Fires Rage in Chilean Port City

The following is an adapted excerpt from an update by Bob and Cheryl Fugate, who serve in Santiago, Chile. 

We are living in the midst of the second major national tragedy in less than two weeks. At this time of year, ocean winds are unrelenting, fueling small fires that rage through the dry bush on the hillsides near the city of Valpariaso. The Chilean government reports that 12 people are dead and more than 2,000 houses were destroyed in the worst fire of Valpariaso’s history. Eight thousand people have sought shelter in schools and churches.

The Alliance has a church in the downtown center, but it is not in immediate danger. On Sunday, as the fire burned out of control, the pastor announced that the church would be open for services.

One church member, who lives in an area vulnerable to the fires, told the pastor, “I decided to leave my house and possessions in God’s hands and go to church, where I could pray.”

When the woman returned home late Sunday afternoon, she found burned houses all around, but her home was untouched by the flames.

The neighborhoods surrounding Valparaiso are the most impoverished of the city. Thousands of families live in precarious situations in two-room houses made of scrap wood and discarded tin. The makeshift structures are packed close together on steep hills and the sides of ravines, making difficult access for firefighters.

We watched helplessly on TV as thousands of people tried to save what few possessions they had, carrying washing machines, stoves, and refrigerators on their backs. Others bundled up their belongings in blankets. One man risked his life, with the flames just feet away from him, to wrestle a mattress out of his house; to him, it represented years of hard work.

Pray that the fires will be contained soon. Also, pray for those affected by this disaster and that churches will minister Christ’s love to those in need.


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