CHILEAN-At least 120 houses have been destroyed by fast moving forest fires in the Chilean city of Valparaíso, prompting a mass evacuation, officials say.

The fires affected the Rocuant and San Roque hills and spread to two poor residential areas. All the city’s firefighters have been deployed.

Mayor Jorge Sharp said the fires had been started “intentionally”. There have been no reports of any casualties.

Strong winds and high temperatures were exacerbating the situation.

Power was cut to about 90,000 customers in the area as a precautionary measure. Two schools were turned into shelters for the affected residents, who were forced to flee in the middle of Christmas Eve celebrations.

How do you fight extreme wildfires?

Mr Sharp said a state of emergency had been declared in the city, some 100km (62 miles) from the capital, Santiago, and that it was “obvious” that the fires had been lit deliberately.

A video posted on social media showed a car next to where one of the fires started. Prosecutors were investigating the footage as well as reports from residents that cars were seen in the hills affected moments before the blazes began, Emol website reports.

Valparaíso’s firefighters are trying to contain the fires

Chilean Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker visited the areas and admitted that the firefighters were struggling to contain the fires. Nearly 120 hectares (445 acres) of grassland have already been ravaged by the fires.

On Twitter, President SebastiánPiñera said: “We deeply regret the fire that affects so many families in the hills of Valparaíso and especially on Christmas Eve.”

Valparaíso, in central Chile, is one of country’s largest cities and a major port on the Pacific. It is also a popular tourist destination in South America.

In 2017, the central town of Santa Olga was destroyed by wildfires.