New forest fire outbreak kills one in Chile
  • | AFP | January 03, 2012 08:42 AM
A new forest fire has claimed one life in southern Chile just hours after firefighters tamed a massive blaze that consumed 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) in Patagonia, officials said Monday.
 A man tries to put out a fire as massive forest fire affects the commune of Quillon in southern Chile's Bio Bio region.  
The new inferno already has consumed some 10,000 hectares in the commune of Quillon in southern Chile's Biobio region, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) south of Santiago, according to federal disaster officials.

There were at least five active forest fires blazing in Biobio that have destroyed at least 100 homes, officials said.

Late Sunday, President Sebastian Pinera announced that several hundred firefighters had succeeded in bringing under control a five-day old inferno in southern Chile's Torres del Paine National Park, a 2,400-square-kilometer (927-square-mile) nature preserve in the Patagonian steppe.

"We are preparing to begin the process of partially reopening the park," Pinera said.

The national park is located about 3,000 kilometers south of Santiago.

Police have accused Israeli citizen Rotem Singer, 23, of causing the fire by failing to properly extinguish a burning roll of toilet paper, although he denies the negligence charges.

The young man was arrested Saturday and released hours later on condition that he not leave the region. He faces a possible sentence of 40 to 60 days in jail and a fine of about $300.

The Israeli embassy in Santiago issued a statement Monday in which it announced it would "not take part in the judicial proceedings" because "the family will hire a lawyer for his defense."

The embassy also said it would "closely follow the development of the investigation" and added that "at the moment, responsibility has not been resolved."

Pinera described the penalties for starting the fires as too low and announced a "profound modification" in Chile's forest protection laws.

He proposes increasing penalties for anyone who causes forest fires either intentionally or negligently.

In the past few days, as many as 15 forest fires of various degrees of severity have raged throughout Chile.

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