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Chile firefighter, forest official linked to wildfires that killed 130

Published 05/25/2024, 07:34 PM
Updated 05/25/2024, 08:36 PM
© Reuters. Vina del Mar, Chile February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari

(Reuters) - A volunteer firefighter and a Chilean forestry official have been formally accused by prosecutors with involvement in setting wildfires that engulfed central Chile this past February, killing over 130 people.

Implicated so far is volunteer firefighter Francisco Ignacio Mondaca, along with Francisco Pinto, an official from Chile's National Forestry Corporation (CONAF), part of the Agriculture ministry that is responsible for preventing forest fires.

The prosecutor's office in Valparaiso, a coastal city close to areas hardest hit by the fires, said on Saturday that both suspects were in pre-trial detention.

Attorneys for the two men could not immediately be reached.

Authorities say Mondaca, the firefighter, carried out the plot, while citing the CONAF official as the mastermind behind it.

Prosecutors said they had access to evidence the shows Moncada and Pinto acted deliberately and that they had knowledge about the optimal weather conditions to start fires.

"We have material that shows that they agreed to act jointly when the appropriate meteorological conditions arose to ensure that the fires occurred," Claudia Perivancich, regional prosecutor of Valparaiso, told reporters.

Officials found that in each of the four places where fires first broke out on Feb. 2 they also found devices made of cigarettes and matches that started them.

The judge gave authorities six months to finish the investigation, saying that more work had to be done on the cases of missing victims and each suspect's cell phone, according to a post on Valparaiso's prosecutor office's X account.

Prosecutor Osvaldo Ossandon said authorities were able to link Mondaca to six previous fires that occurred in the area, according to a post on X from Valparaiso's prosecutor's office.

The fires were the worst natural disaster to strike the South American nation since the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 500 dead.

© Reuters. Vina del Mar, February 3, 2024. REUTERS/Sofia Yanjari

Chile, Argentina and other parts of South America's southern cone have faced a severe heat wave, something experts say will become more common during the southern summer months due to climate change.

The extreme weather in Chile has also been exacerbated by the El Niño climate phenomenon, which warms the Pacific Ocean.

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