Chile's Torres del Paine National Park reopened in part on Wednesday after a fire ravaged the popular tourist destination for over a week.
The fire broke out last Tuesday near the iceberg-studded Grey Lake and charred over 31,000 acres in the heart of the park. Grey Lake is a highlight of the five-day hiking circuit known as the W.
The Torres del Paine National Park covers 450,000 acres in Chilean Patagonia. The 5 day, 4 night W route through the park leads past the Cordillera del Paine, a spectacular collection of granite monoliths located in the transitional area between the Magellanic subpolar forests and the Patagonian steppe (also known as the Patagonian Desert). Declared a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978, the lakes, rivers, waterfalls, glaciers, and dense forests of the region are internationally recognized as being one of the most unique and uncontaminated places on the planet.
Chile's iconic preserve draws about 150,000 visitors a year, primarily in the summer months of December, January, and February. Nestled deep in southern Patagonia, the area where the wildfire occurred is about a five-hour drive from the nearest major airport at Punta Arenas.
The blaze came within 50 yards of the park's best known hotel, Explora's Hotel Salto Chico. It expects to reopen Jan. 10.
Chile's typically rain-drenched southern regions have experienced unusually hot and dry conditions this year. Roughly 50 separate wildfires broke out in the past week across the south and central parts of the thin, coast-hugging nation, including a particularly devastating blaze in Bio Bio, 300 miles south of the capital, Santiago.
Many accused Chile's beleaguered president, billionaire Sibastian Piñera, of failing to act quickly enough to contain the wildfires before they got out of control.
We still have to work for full control of the situation, Piñera said Tuesday. Unfortunately because of the drought and the heat wave we still have a situation of extreme vulnerability regarding fires.
Authorities charged 23-year-old Israeli tourist Rotem Singer in the Torres del Paine fire for negligently starting the blaze by burning his group's toilet paper. He was released on Sunday but had his passport confiscated. Singer denies the allegations.
He was a long distance from where the fire began, his father, Hezi, said according to the Haaretz newspaper. Rotem is confused and frightened. They brought him a translator we know nothing about, and a local attorney who isn't exactly doing his job. They were probably looking for a scapegoat who doesn't speak Spanish.
Singer could face up to 60 days in prison and a fine of around $300 if found guilty.
Alejandro Navarro, head of the Chilean Senate's Environment Committee, has called for Israel to compensate for the heavy damage, noting that in 2005, the Czech government paid Chile nearly $200,000 in compensation and assisted in rehabilitation efforts after a Czech tourist caused a fire of a similar scale in the Torres del Paine National Park.
A foreign ministry statement from Israel expressed solidarity with Chile for the sorrow caused by the damage. The nation offered to help rehabilitate the park by donating seedlings.