137 dead in a terrible fire: a firefighter and a forestry official arrested

137 dead in a terrible fire: a firefighter and a forestry official arrested
137 dead in a terrible fire: a firefighter and a forestry official arrested

A firefighter and a forestry official were arrested this Friday in Chile, suspected of being at the origin of the fire which left 137 dead in early February in the tourist town of Viña del Mar and which shocked the country. “An arrest warrant was issued today for the perpetrator of the fires that occurred in February in the Valparaiso region”where the city of Viña del Mar is located, declared police director Eduardo Cerna, in a press conference organized at the end of the investigation.

A little later, the Valparaiso regional prosecutor’s office confirmed the arrest of a second person: an official from the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), the body responsible for fighting forest fires and managing forests. National parks. The two men are to be remanded in custody on Saturday for arson causing death.

According to the public prosecutor’s office, the fire started on February 2 from small simultaneous fires that broke out near Lake Peñuelas, located near the tourist towns of Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, in central Chile.

Reconstructed facts

The flames spread quickly due to the heat and gusty winds. In total, 137 people died and 16,000 were affected. According to local media, this 22-year-old man joined the fire brigade, which is made up of volunteers in Chile, a year and a half ago.

“We are completely devastated by what happened, this is a completely isolated incident […] We have been caring for Valparaiso for over 170 years and we cannot allow such things.”Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th fire company of the city of Valparaiso, told the press.

According to Ivan Navarro, commissioner of the Bridage responsible for investigating crimes committed against the environment (Bidena), investigators were able to reconstruct exactly what the arrested firefighter did before, during and after the fire . “We were able to determine the exact locations where the fires broke out and find the device that caused the fires”, he added. We were also able to determine the participation of a second subject, accused of being the mastermind of the affair. “He provided him with the knowledge needed to create these devices and also told him the exact times he needed to operate for the fire to do more damage”added Mr. Navarro.

Evidence from the suspect

From the start, local authorities claimed it was arson.

“All the inhabitants of Viña del Mar knew that it was a voluntary act […] and today we can have this degree of certainty”declared the mayor of this city, Macarena Ripamonti.

Firefighters were unable to put out the fire due to the lack of roads or because they found themselves stuck in the narrow accesses to the city.

“There were about four outbreaks, equidistant from each other”said Osvaldo Ossandón, a prosecutor specializing in fires.

Elements with which he started the fire were found in the house of the arrested suspect and an investigation is underway to determine whether he was involved in other previous fires, the prosecutor added.

This arrest constitutes “an act of justice […] for those who lost their lives in the fire, for their families, for those who lost all their possessions, their jobs and who are still fighting today”declared the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Toha.

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