Last Tuesday, April 8th the day before we left on our trip, we saw this from our apartment:
It was a brush fire to the east of us, which was quickly contained. Last January Valpo had a big fire which burned a lot of houses, but that was nothing like what started over this past weekend. As of this morning, over 2000 houses burned and 12 people are dead. We live several miles from the fire(s), and we can see the smoke in Viña del Mar where we live. There is not much chance of this coming our way due to the prevailing winds, terrain and construction differences between our area and where the fire is located. My university is closed today-the main campus in Valpo is being used as a staging area for food collection. I do not work there, my campus is in Viña, but all campuses are closed.
Chile has been suffering from a drought for the past 5 years, and as a result trees and other vegetation are dead, dying or very dry. Combine this with high wind, close packed wood and plaster houses, steep hills, no fire hydrants and you have a disaster. Everyone is praying that this year will, indeed, be an El Niño year. Indications are it will be a strong one, which will bring lots of rain which is desperately needed.
For the best information on this, and other extreme events in Chile, you should go to ONEMI.cl, the web page for Chile's national disaster agency (similar to FEMA in the US). This is the place I go for earthquake updates, and the like. If you use Google Chrome as your web browser, you can click on the translate button for a fair translation.