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Thousands return home after fleeing Chile forest fire

Picture released on March 12, 2017 by Aton Chile shows firefighters working to put out a forest fire in Valparaiso.<br />Chilean authorities decreed red alert in Valparaiso and Vina del Mar for several forest fires. / AFP PHOTO / ATON CHILE / Raul ZAMORA / Chile OUT /

Some 6,000 people began returning home Monday after a forest fire forced their evacuation over the weekend, sweeping through central Chile and destroying more than a dozen dwellings, local authorities said.

The blaze began in forested areas of Vina del Mar, a popular resort area in the Valparaiso region, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Santiago, where hundreds of poor families live in illegally-built houses of wood and tin.

According to Ricardo Toro, the director of the National Emergency Office (ONEMI), no one was killed or injured in the blaze.

The cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar had been put on alert as the fire tore through 230 hectares (570 acres) in just a few hours, amid strong winds and soaring temperatures.

Police and army personnel had helped people carry their personal belongings in vehicles, while firefighters and forest brigades fought the flames to keep them from reaching camps.

Authorities said additional brigades and helicopters would be sent Monday to continue fighting the fire.

Regional authorities meanwhile had suspended Monday classes in the city of Vina del Mar, where 10 families who lost their homes were being housed in shelters.

Officials had announced an investigation to determine the cause of the blaze.

The fire came three months after a large blaze hit Valparaiso, destroying more than 100 homes and leaving about 20 people injured.

Earlier this year, forest fires ravaged southern Chile, killing 11 people and destroying large swaths of land.

Fires are common in Chile’s parched forests during the southern hemisphere’s summer. Most are caused by human activity.

Fire activity this year was worse than usual because of a drought attributed by environmentalists to climate change.

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