by Emilee Gaebler
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
SANTIAGO, Chile – Dozens of forest fires currently rage throughout the southern Magallanese, Maule and Bio Bio regions. Over 500 firefighters have been deployed in an attempt to control the fires that started on December 31.
In the Bio Bio region, a 75 year-old man was killed when he ignored evacuation requests. Over 40 homes have now been destroyed and roughly 500 people have been forced to evacuate the area.
Empresas Copec SA, the largest publicly traded Chilean company also suffered losses. A plywood-producing mill in the Bio Bio region was destroyed in the fire. Copec successfully evacuated 250 employees from the Nueva Aldea plant well before the fire hit it.
Due to the destruction caused by the fire, the public shares for the company fell 1.8% according to the Washington Post Business reports. The company released a statement that estimated close to 9,880 acres of company land were destroyed.
Throughout Chile, 48 separate fires existed yesterday and only 20 of them are under control. Early on Monday of this week the 500 evacuees were forced to move a second time as the flames advanced.
“We are facing an extremely vulnerable situation. Three regions are under red alert. In addition we have eight regions with different types of fire alerts. This undoubtedly puts enormous pressure on resources,” stated President Sebastian Piñera.
Helicopters and planes also were deployed to the area but were unable to be used in fighting the fires due to the high winds, which are fanning the flames. Solely those workers on the ground have fought the battle at this point.
The firefighters say that they have controlled four of the six big fires that have spread throughout the Torres del Paine National Park, which is located further south in the Patagonia region.
Thousands of tourists, currently vacationing in the Patagonia area, were banned from visiting the world-famous park; causing millions of dollars to be lost by the tourism industry. President Piñera hopes to reopen portions of the park by the middle of this week. He reports that currently 32,000 acres have been destroyed, which is close to 7% of the total park.
An Israeli tourist, 23 year- old Rotem Singer, was detained this weekend on charges of arson. Police claim that he is suspected of negligently starting the fire in the Torres del Paine Park. Friends of Singer say that he lit a toilet paper roll on fire and did not properly extinguish it.
Family members of Singer’s, back in Israel, are outraged over the accusations being made. They claim that Chile is simply looking for a scapegoat to blame the fires on. The Chilean prosecutor on the case says that Singer acknowledged his role in starting the fire.
If convicted, Singer faces two months in jail and a fine of $300 (US). Environmental groups roundly criticized the government for what they viewed as a “slow response.” President Piñera, in response, has proposed enhanced penalties for those responsible for starting fires, regardless of their actions being negligent or planned.
For more information, please see;
CNN – Deadly Chile Forest Fires Spread – 2 Jan 2012
CTV – Chile Battles 3 Massive Wildfires; 1 Killed – 2 Jan 2012
Washington Post Business – Copec Falls Most in Four Weeks as Chile Fire Destroys Plant – 2 Jan 2012
BBC – Israeli Tourist Family Defends Chile Fire Suspect – 1 Jan 2012