Latin America & Caribbean

Chile police investigate 'intentional' forest fires

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Media captionHundreds of firefighters are still tackling some 20 fires

Some of the wildfires affecting Chile may have been started intentionally, the government has said.

Police in the Bio Bio region are investigating how blazes started almost simultaneously in at least eight different locations.

Multiple fires have burned some 400 sq km (98,842 acres) of grassland and forest in central and southern Chile.

In the far south, Torres del Paine National Park has been partly reopened after fires were brought under control.

Hundreds of firefighters are tackling some 20 fires, which are being fanned by strong winds.

Worst hit has been the Bio Bio region, about 500km (300 miles) south of the capital, Santiago, where 225 sq km of forest have been ravaged and more than 160 homes destroyed.

A 75-year-old man died after he refused to leave his home.

Interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said some of the fires in the Arauco forest in Bio Bio may have been started deliberately.

"The probability that they may have been caused deliberately is - disgracefully - a probability that we cannot dismiss," he said.

Mr Hinzpeter said he had instructed police to use all their resources to investigate the cause of the fires and catch anyone responsible.

"The unbreakable will of our government will be to get these criminals, these killers who think they can set fire to part of our country, and bring them to justice." he said.

The government has declared the Bio Bio region a disaster zone, enabling it to release funds to help people whose homes and farms have been destroyed.

The first fires began a week ago in Torres del Paine National Park, a popular tourist destination in Patagonia in Chile's far south.

Around 145 sq km of forest, grassland and steppes there have been burned, but the fires have been brought under control, the authorities say.

Some 80% of accessible areas of the park were reopened to visitors on Wednesday, Chilean media reported.

An Israeli tourist has denied a charge of causing the fire in the park through negligence.

If found guilty, he could face up to 60 days in prison and a fine of around $300 (£190).

Israel has offered to help rehabilitate the park by donating seedlings.

A foreign ministry statement expressed solidarity with Chile for the sorrow caused by the damage to the park.

Forest fires are common in Chile during its summer but drought has worsened the problem.

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