Chile forest fire destroys 500 homes in port city

April 13, 2014
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People watch as a forest fire rages towards urban areas in the city of Valparaiso, Chile, Saturday April 13, 2014. Authorities say the first fire has destroyed at least 150 homes and is forcing evacuations. ( AP Photo/ Luis Hidalgo)

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — A large forest fire raging in the Chilean port city of Valparaiso destroyed at least 500 homes and was forcing evacuations Sunday, officials said.

President Michelle Bachelet has declared the city a catastrophe zone, which puts the armed forces in charge of maintaining order and evacuating thousands of people affected by the smoke and flames.

Valparaiso Mayor Jorge Castro said "at least 500 homes have been destroyed by the fire." He said shelters for those forced to flee have been set up.

Castro said earlier the city was without electricity and the flames were "advancing in an apparently uncontrollable manner."

Firefighters were having difficulty combating the blaze because of the topography of the city, which is surrounded by dozens of steep hills where most people live.

Valparaiso is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of the capital, Santiago.