Chilean Church leaders have called for Catholics to respond with prayer and solidarity to aid about 1,000 people who lost their homes in fires that swept through hillside neighbourhoods around the southern port city of Valparaiso on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
Bishop Pedro Ossandon Buljevic, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Valparaiso, urged Catholics to “join in prayer to transform ourselves into a single great manger of solidarity, that welcomes and accompanies in this initial moment of pain and in the large process of recovery”.
Although the final tally is not complete, Valparaiso church workers estimated that at least 250 houses were destroyed on the hillsides, where the steep terrain made it difficult for firefighters to combat the blazes.
By December 27, the fires were under control, with just a few hot spots remaining.
Chilean government officials said they suspected the fires, which were exacerbated by high temperatures, strong winds and prolonged drought, were set deliberately.
Caritas, the Church’s social ministry office, is providing emergency assistance to families and will aid with reconstruction of homes and small businesses lost in the fires.
Fires occur almost every year in southern Chile, where large plantations of pine and eucalyptus trees are common. A fire in November in Curauma, near Valparaiso, burned an area of nearly eight square miles. Two men were arrested in that case.