Forest fire in Chile
Forest fire in Chile Reuters

Hundreds of firefighters are battling a deadly inferno that has spread across forests in the central and southern parts of Chile.

According to reports, the fires – which are believed to have been caused by unusually dry summer conditions and high winds in the Southern Hemisphere, but also exacerbated by a suspected act of arson – has already forced more than 500 people to evacuate their homes.

At least one person (a 75-year-old man who refused to leave his house) has been killed by the fires, while 57,000 acres of land have been destroyed.

In the Bio Bio region, at least 100 homes have been burned down.

Firemen have made some progress in containing four of the six fires that are raging across the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, one of the country’s top tourist spots.

On the whole, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said fire officials are fighting a total of four dozen separate fires, of which fifteen continued to blaze out of control.

Pinera also warned it may take weeks for all the fires to be extinguished.

Meanwhile, Chilean police have arrested a tourist from Israel on suspicions that he may have started the fire through negligence.

Rotem Singer, 23, denied the charges, but could face up to sixty days in prison and a fine of $300, if convicted. His family in Israel believes he is being used as a scapegoat by Chilean authorities.

He could not have caused this disaster. He was a kilometer away from the fire when his friends woke him up, his father Hezi Singer, told Israeli radio.

However, Chilean prosecutor Juan Melendez said Singer confessed that he permitted the fire to start by not properly disposing of a toilet roll he burned in the park.

Chilean officials have also demanded that Israel provide compensation for the damage the fire has inflicted – a request, Israel has flat out rejected.

Alejandro Navarro, chief of the Chilean Senate's Environment Committee, stated that when someone commits a crime in a foreign country against a heritage site, his country is morally and legally obligated to compensate for the heavy damage.

However, Israel’s foreign minister nonetheless offered to help put out the Chilean fire and emphasized the close relations the two countries enjoy.

Israel had experienced a similar disaster last year with the Carmel fire and the painful memory sharpens the sense of a shared fate, the ministry stated.

The deep friendship that the Israeli people feel towards Chile is stronger than ever, and on its basis we are interested in sending a delegation of experts in the field of forestation to assist their colleagues in any way they can.