Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Valparaiso Fires

It has been a long while since I posted.  I have actually been gathering pictures to post for the past few months, planning to return to the blog, but unfortunately it took another disaster to get me moving. 

Saturday, April 12th will be an evening that will be stuck in my memory for some time as a huge, negative and scary  sequence of events. 

Actually for me personally the day started out great.  I had a fun afternoon near the coast in Playa Ancha.   We noticed immediately when a bit of smoke came over us, gradually covering up a bright blue sky, all the while getting progressively darker.  I became mesmerised and posted a photo to Instagram of the sky split between a gorgeous blue and threatening grey.  

On my smart phone I looked up the source and almost told a friend it sounded close to his house and he should worry, but quickly determined that it appeared to just be  a forest fire and I shouldn’t unnecessarily scare him without having any details. 

In no time traffic had come to a standstill and we started to realize something was more off than we thought. Without a bus, we decided to walk.  Rounding the corner, we could see where the smoke was coming from, and how much there was.  Ash was started falling on us in large chunks even though we were miles away.   

Between the chaos of  huge traffic jams,  an incredibly colorful smoky sky of unprecedented character, a short tsunami alert scare which was quickly called off… I felt increasingly uneasy with each step.  It took me about an hour to walk home. As I was paying in the supermarket the power cut out quickly and the stoplights outside did not return to normalcy.    I suddenly felt stressed out that things were going out of control and I started to rush home. 

Getting there, I of course pulled out my camera – I like to document things.  All of it was so beautiful in an eerie way.  It wasn’t til I climbed to a vintage point on a neighbouring hill and got the first phone call that a friend’s house had burned down that I realised this was not just a forest fire anymore. 


I rushed home to get some contact information and soon enough power in the whole city cut out for an extended period of time.  This would be the first of many power outages during the night, as the fires spread further and further, jumping to new neighborhoods without warning.  In the moments without light, the far off fires were so large they lit the sky orange.  

Ten thousand people were evacuated, and the city was abuzz.  Multiple points of fire could be seen along the tops of hills.  Around 2am I tagged along on a walk through the hills, but as we got closer the more we realized we didn’t want to be, and eventually headed back. 

All night I couldn’t sleep, between the sirens and explosions from bursting gas canisters, the constant fear that the fire would head my way, or that some other type of chaos or danger would come up during one of the many power outages.  I got news of a number of other friends who lost their homes, and others who, evacuated, anxiously waited all night to find out whether theirs had been spared or not. 

As soon as the sun came up I gave up trying to sleep and glued myself to the TV, watching family after family return to see nothing but ash where their houses were.   A couple of my friends returned to find their house one of the few unharmed among a neighborhood of destruction, and of course others returned only to confirm their fears that everything was lost.  



Fires continued all Sunday and were still going strong and spreading as I went to bed Sunday night.   While Monday everything seemed to slow down, small fires continued to pop up for the next few days.  After things calmed down the final count came to 15 dead, 3,309 destroyed homes and 12,500 people left homeless.