Chile arrests firefighter for allegedly starting deadly fire in February | News

A firefighter and a forestry official were arrested on suspicion of starting a fire that killed 137 people in the city of Viña del Mar.

Chilean authorities arrested a firefighter and a forestry official on suspicion of starting a fire that killed 137 people in the resort town of Viña del Mar in February.

“Today an arrest warrant was issued against the person who started the fires in February in the Valparaíso region,” where Viña del Mar is located, police director Eduardo Cerna said at a press conference.

Shortly after, the Valparaíso regional prosecutor’s office confirmed the arrest of a second suspect, an official from the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), the body in charge of fighting forest fires and managing national parks.

Both men will remain in custody on Saturday charged with arson resulting in death.

Several fires broke out simultaneously on February 2 around the coastal city of Viña del Mar, 110 kilometers northwest of Chile’s capital, Santiago.

The inferno, the world’s second deadliest this century, was fueled by winds and a heat wave that reached temperatures of about 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Local media reported that the firefighter is a 22-year-old man who joined the volunteer corps a year and a half ago.

“We are completely devastated by what happened, it is a totally isolated incident… we have served Valparaíso for more than 170 years and we cannot allow things like this,” Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th Fire Department of the city of Valparaíso, told reporters.

‘An intentional attack’

Iván Navarro, head of the environmental crimes investigation authority, said detectives reconstructed what the arrested firefighter did before, during and after the fire.

“We were able to determine the exact locations where the fires occurred and find the device that started them,” he said. “We were also able to determine the participation of a second person, accused of being the intellectual author of the fire.

“He gave him the knowledge to make these devices and also told him the exact times he needed to operate for the fire to do more damage,” Navarro said.

Public Ministry investigators discovered that the inferno began with small, simultaneous fires near Lake Peñuelas, in the port city of Valparaíso next to Viña del Mar. The hot, windy weather quickly spread the flames.

“There were approximately four outbreaks, equidistant from each other,” said prosecutor Osvaldo Ossandon.

The materials used to start the fire were found in the home of one of the suspects, he said. Investigators were also looking into possible links to other arson incidents.

It was unclear what caused the fire.

“All of us… knew it had been an intentional attack,” said Viña del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti. “Today we can have that degree of certainty.”

Firefighters had been unable to reach the scene of the fire due to a lack of roads or were stuck on narrow city streets lined with charred cars.

“This is, above all, an act of justice and reparation to those who lost their lives in the fire, to their families, to those who lost all their property, their sources of work and struggle to this day,” said the minister of Interior, Carolina. Toha said.

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