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Thousands evacuated in Chile as fire threatens port city Valparaiso

Locals gather as a forest fire burns the hills of Valparaiso city, northwest of Santiago March 13, 2015

Thousands of people were evacuated from around the Chilean port city of Valparaiso on Friday as a forest fire raged out of control, emergency service agency Onemi said.

Some 4,500 people were being evacuated from Valparaiso and neighboring Vina del Mar and a state of emergency had been declared, Onemi said.

The fire was advancing rapidly, and the numbers being evacuated could rise to 16,000, depending on how the fire progressed, the interior ministry said.

Three firefighters were taken to hospital with injuries and one woman died of cardio-respiratory causes, it said. The fire had begun in a rubbish dump and had burnt some 260 hectares.

As night fell, firefighters were working to keep the flames from reaching populated areas of Valparaiso, a hilly city of mostly wooden houses that is part gritty low-income and part artistic retreat popular with tourists.

No homes had yet been affected, Onemi said.

Forest fires are common in Chile around March, and have been particularly savage this year after a hot, dry summer. In 2014, a fire in Valparaiso killed 15 people and consumed over 2,000 homes.

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