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Apr 13, 2014 11:06 AM by Associated Press

Seven dead in Chile forest fire, 500 homes destroyed

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - Officials in the Chilean city of Valparaiso say at least seven people are dead from a fire that has destroyed 500 homes.

Thousands of people have been evacuated, including more than 200 female inmates at a prison.

Firefighters have been struggling amid high winds that have rained hot ash over the city's wooden houses and narrow streets. Some neighborhoods on the steep hills between the forest and the sea are reached by staircases. The fire started yesterday on the edge of the city, and spread rapidly because of strong winds.

The country's president arrived today in the city of 250,000 people to oversee the responses of an emergency committee. She declared the entire city a catastrophe zone, putting Chile's military in charge.

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