Berliner Tageblatt - Chile firefighter accused in February blaze that killed 137

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Chile firefighter accused in February blaze that killed 137
Chile firefighter accused in February blaze that killed 137 / Photo: © AFP/File

Chile firefighter accused in February blaze that killed 137

A firefighter was arrested Friday in Chile on suspicion of starting a blaze in February that killed 137 people in the resort city of Vina del Mar, authorities said.

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"An arrest warrant was issued today against the person who started the fires in February in the Valparaiso region," where Vina del Mar is located, police director Eduardo Cerna told a news conference.

Several fires broke out simultaneously on February 2 around the coastal city of Vina del Mar, 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Chile's capital Santiago.

The inferno, the second deadliest in the world this century, was fueled by winds and a heatwave that saw temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

Local media reported the firefighter is a 22-year-old man who joined the volunteer force a year and a half ago.

"We are completely devastated by what happened, it is a totally isolated incident... we have served Valparaiso for more than 170 years and cannot allow such things," Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th Fire Company of the city of Valparaiso, told reporters.

- Certainty -

Public Ministry investigators found the inferno started with small simultaneous blazes near Lake Penuelas, in the port city of Valparaiso next to Vina del Mar. Hot and windy weather quickly spread the flames.

"There were approximately four outbreaks, equidistant from each other," prosecutor Osvaldo Ossandon said.

Materials used to start the fire were found in the suspect's house, he said. Investigators were also probing potential links to other arson incidents.

It was unclear what the suspect's motive was.

"All of us ... knew that this had been an intentional attack," Vina del Mar Mayor Macarena Ripamonti said. "Today we can have that degree of certainty."

Firefighters had been unable to reach the fire due to lack of roads or were stuck on narrow city streets lined with charred cars.

"This is, first and foremost, an act of justice and reparation to those who lost their lives in the fire, to their families, to those who lost all their property, their sources of work and struggle to this day," Interior Minister Carolina Toha said.

A.Gasser--BTB