Latin America & Caribbean

Chile detains tourist suspected of causing park fire

Burnt vegetation in Torres del Paine Park on 31 December 2011
Image caption More than 100 sq km of the park's vegetation has been destroyed by the fire

Officials in Chile say they have detained an Israeli tourist they suspect of having caused a forest fire in a nature reserve in Patagonia.

An expanse of pristine forest 110 sq km (27,000 acres) large has already burned in the Torres del Paine national park.

Hundreds of firefighters continue to fight the blaze, which is believed to have been sparked by a camp fire.

Torres del Paine is one of the country's most popular parks, visited by more than 100,000 people a year.

Local prosecutor Juan Melendez said that the 23-year-old Israeli had been arrested on suspicion of causing the fire through negligence.

Four hundred tourists were evacuated from Torres del Paine on Thursday as firefighters failed to stem the blaze.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said it could take weeks to bring the fire under control.

The head of Chile's national emergency service, Vicente Nunez, called the situation "an extreme scenario, mainly due to topography, strong winds and highly combustible vegetation".

'Slow response'

In 2005, a campfire started by a backpacker destroyed 160 sq kms (40,000 acres) of the nature preserve.

President Pinera said the ministers of agriculture and the environment would travel to Patagonia to personally oversee the firefighting efforts.

The president also said the number of military personnel deployed to fight the blaze would be raised to 450.

Environmental group Ecological Action had earlier criticised the government for what it said was its slow response to the fire.

The group's co-ordinator, Luis Mariano Rendon, said it was a "national shame" that on Thursday only 25 Chilean soldiers were fighting the fires, when neighbouring Argentina had sent 23.

The fire started on Tuesday and spread quickly, fanned by high winds and fuelled by dry vegetation.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites