Yet Another Fire in Valparaíso
Though, quite a bit has happened in the past fourteen days, I think it would be more fitting to talk a little about what happened yesterday, Friday 13 March, when a huge fire burnt down significant amounts of forest in Valparaíso – roughly in the same area where there was a huge fire April 15 last year which destroyed almost 3000 homes, left around 11,000 homeless, injured more than 500, and cost 15 people their lives. Fortunately, they were able to contain the fire this year and ensure it did not reach the populated regions of Valparaíso, though almost 5000 people were nevertheless evacuated from their houses as a precaution. I will write another blog post in a few days time discussing the past two weeks in detail, but for now I’ll stick with describing what happened on Friday.
For me, the first thing that alerted me that something was amiss was when I walked outside to sit in the garden and take advantage of the sunshine, but the sky was darker than normal. Looking up, I saw that most of the sky was orange, or a combination of orange and grey. There was an acrid smell in the air. Something was burning.
When I went back inside, my host mother told me that there was “un fuego. Un fuego enorme.” We went up to the balcony to get a better look at the sky, where the pungent smell of burnt land was even worse, and where we could see giant orange-grey clouds of smoke billowing across the skies at high speed, which was scary yet highly impressive and oddly majestic.
My host family and I watched the news anxiously, following the latest developments, and I tried to stay in contact with the fellow students in the program (made difficult by the fact that the internet had semi-collapsed). After a while, however, it became clear that they had started to gain some measure of control over the fire (although one expert on the TV created some consternation when he pointed out that the Valparaíso firefighters had little experience in dealing with fires of these intensity, especially at night, and that he had little faith in them. So much for words of comfort). In any case, I received an email from the resident director of IFSA-Butler that everyone was alright and that the worst was over (as a sidenote, I found it rather ironic that the email was very calm for the most part apart from the bit begging us to STAY CALM NO MATTER WHAT). Phew. As of now, the air still smells very burnt, but as far as consequences of a forest fire go it could have been much, much worse….