Firefighter arrested in Chile for setting deadly February fire

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By Creative Media News

  • Firefighter and forestry official arrested for fatal Vina del Mar fire
  • 137 died in February blaze; officials face arson charges
  • Authorities allege deliberate arson; devices found at suspect’s home

Chilean authorities have apprehended a firefighter and a forestry official on suspicion of initiating a fire that resulted in the deaths of 137 individuals in the resort city of Vina del Mar in February.

“An arrest warrant was issued today against the individual who initiated the fires in February in the Valparaiso region,” where Vina del Mar is situated, stated police director Eduardo Cerna during a press conference.

A short time later, the Valparaiso regional prosecutor’s office verified the arrest of a second suspect, an official of the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), the organization responsible for managing national parks and suppressing forest fires.

On Saturday, both individuals will be remanded in custody on charges of arson that resulted in fatalities.

On February 2, several flames erupted simultaneously in the vicinity of Vina del Mar, a coastal city located 70 miles (110 km) northwest of Santiago, Chile’s capital.

The conflagration, the second most lethal event of the century, was exacerbated by a heatwave and winds, resulting in temperatures of approximately 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

According to local media, the firefighter is a 22-year-old male who joined the volunteer force one and a half years ago.

“We are utterly devastated by the events that transpired; it is an entirely isolated incident.” Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th Fire Company of Valparaiso, informed reporters that the 13th Fire Company has been serving Valparaiso for over 170 years and cannot permit such actions.

A deliberate assault

The environmental crime investigation authority’s superintendent, Ivan Navarro, stated that detectives were able to reconstruct the arrested firefighter’s actions before, during, and after the fire.

“We were able to pinpoint the precise locations where the fires originated and locate the device that ignited them,” he stated. “We were also able to ascertain the involvement of a second individual, alleged to have been the mastermind behind the arson.”

“He provided him with the knowledge necessary to construct these devices and also advised him on the precise times to operate them to maximize the fire’s destructive potential,” Navarro stated.

According to Public Ministry investigators, the inferno was initiated by minor, simultaneous fires near Lake Penuelas in the port city of Valparaiso, close to Vina del Mar. The hot and gusty weather rapidly disseminated the flames.

“According to prosecutor Osvaldo Ossandon, approximately four outbreaks were equally spaced apart.”

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He stated that the suspect’s residence contained the materials necessary to initiate the fire. Additionally, investigators were investigating potential connections to other arson incidents.

The motivation for the arson was not entirely obvious.

“We were all aware that this was an intentional attack,” stated Mayor Macarena Ripamonti of Vina del Mar. “Today, we can achieve that level of certainty.”

Firefighters could either not access the fire due to a lack of roads or were stranded on narrow city streets adorned with charred vehicles.

Interior Minister Carolina Toha stated, “This is, first and foremost, an act of justice and reparation to those who lost their lives in the fire, to their families, and to those who lost all of their property, their sources of work, and the struggle they continue to face to this day.”

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