Chilean judge orders detention of suspects in Valparaiso forest fire

May 29, 2024

Volunteer firefighter and former forestry official detained

A Chilean judge has ordered the detention of a volunteer firefighter and a former forestry official for their alleged involvement in planning and causing a large forest fire in the Valparaiso region.

The fire, which occurred in February, resulted in 137 deaths and left 16,000 people homeless, as reported by AP News.

The suspects, Francisco Mondaca, a 22-year-old volunteer firefighter, and Franco Pinto, a former employee of the National Forest Corporation, were arrested on Friday.

The court has ruled that both men can be held for 180 days while the investigation continues.

Chief prosecutor Osvaldo Ossandón revealed that flares and fireworks were found in Mondaca’s vehicle, linking him to the physical act of starting the fire.

Pinto is accused of planning the crime.

Valparaiso forest fire: Economic motive and investigation details

According to prosecutors, the primary motive behind the fire was economic, aiming to create more work in firefighting.

Regional prosecutor Claudia Perivancich stated that there is evidence showing the two men had agreed in advance to start the fire when weather conditions were favorable.

Mondaca’s testimony suggested the possibility of more individuals being involved, but this remains unconfirmed.

The fire, which began on February 2 in the Lago Peñuelas nature reserve, destroyed over 10,000 homes and is considered Chile’s worst tragedy since the 2010 earthquake.

Prosecutors have linked Mondaca to six previous fires in the area.

The investigation will also look into the cases of missing victims and examine the suspects’ cell phones.

Reactions from fire and forestry departments

Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the Valparaiso Fire Department, expressed dismay over the incident but emphasized that it should not overshadow the department’s long history of saving lives.

He said: “We have been saving lives for more than 170 years.”

Maggiolo assured that this was an isolated incident.

Christian Little, executive director of the forestry department, described the detention of a former official as “a pain” for the agency.

Both the fire department and the forestry agency have announced plans to tighten hiring procedures in response to the incident.

Climate conditions and future risks

The fires in Valparaiso are part of a broader trend of extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, which warms the Pacific Ocean.

Chile, along with other parts of South America’s southern cone, has faced severe heat waves.

Experts predict that such extreme weather conditions will become more common during the southern summer months.

The February fires have been the worst natural disaster to strike Chile since the 2010 earthquake and tsunami.

Authorities continue to work on the investigation, with the judge granting six months to complete it.

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