The flames have subsided, but Valparaíso will be sweeping out the ashes for a while more. According to the most recent figures, the April 12th fire that started on the city’s outskirts destroyed some 2,500 homes and left more than 11,000 Chileans homeless (aerial photo by NASA).
It’s not totally clear what started the fire, but the Chilean police claim to have located the focal point at Fundo Los Perales, an agricultural property adjoining the Vertedero Los Molles, a municipal trash dump. According to their account, sparks ignited by two electrocuted birds were the cause, though that explanation sounds incomplete at best.
Still, disaster relief is the important issue here. While autumn weather is normally mild in this Mediterranean climate and little or no rain is forecast the rest of the month, the rainy season is approaching – this makes relief more urgent than in the recent earthquake in Iquique (where it almost never rains) or the massive February 2010 quake (which gave authorities more late summer leeway).
A couple days ago, I received an email from my friend Janak Jani, owner of the Hostal Luna Sonrisa hostel/B&B on Valparaíso’s Cerro Alegre, who filled in details on some issues I previously mentioned – for instance, the fact that many of the fire victims lived in precarious conditions (photo above by Gobierno de Chile). I’ll take the liberty of quoting from his note, which amplifies my own description of the fire zone and points out complexities in the relief effort. I have made minor edits:
“Although the authorities have set up shelters for victims and donations of food and clothes have come in from all over the country, only some of those affected are receiving aid. Many of those who live(d) right at the top of the town had built on common land to which they have no title. They are refusing to leave the burned-out remains of their homes as they fear tha,t if they do, then their land could be taken by someone else. These people (numbering in the thousands) are sleeping in unsanitary conditions with no shelter and little if any means to prepare food. So far no official help has arrived for them.”
Janak notes that he’s working with a local organization, the Centro Cultural Trafón, “to provide direct aid to those that need it most” with Chile. For non-Chilean residents, he’s also accepting direct donations to purchase “food, medical supplies, tents, mattresses, blankets, sleeping bags, pots and pans, flash-lights, tools etc.” I wouldn’t normally solicit money on this blog but, given my trust in Janak and the worthiness of the cause, I’ll include his information here.
Janak is British, and those with Sterling accounts can transfer money to his Barclays account:
Sort Code 20-17-19
Account No. 50110523
Account Holder: JD Jani
Those without Sterling accounts can donate to his Paypal account, email@example.com.