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    NewsLatin AmericaChile: three weeks in the fight against the flames

    Chile: three weeks in the fight against the flames

    Firefighters during a fire in Puren, Chile, on February 4, 2023.JAVIER TORRES (AFP)

    In just five days a wave of forest fires in south-central Chile devastated the area equivalent to the average that is usually burned in two years. The hectares destroyed by the fire during the last three weeks exceed 450,000, according to the morning balance delivered this Saturday by the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (Senapred). The fire emergency is the deadliest recorded in the South American country in the last decade, with 25 deaths. While almost 6,000 firefighters and brigade members fight to fight the fires that are still active, the Public Ministry has turned to investigate the origin of the flames. At least 44 people have been arrested for their alleged responsibility in the tragedy.

    Nationwide there are 224 developing forest fires. Of them, 26 are in combat, 159 controlled, 28 extinct and 11 under observation. The most affected areas, where the Government of Gabriel Boric has decreed a state of constitutional exception of catastrophe to deal with the emergency, are: Nuble, Biobio and La Araucania (located 400, 500 and 700 kilometers south of Santiago, respectively). . Of the little more than 7,500 victims, 5,855 are from Biobio. “The fire is being much less aggressive and many sources of fire that are generated can be controlled,” explained this week the Minister of the Interior, Carolina Toha, who warned that the weather conditions will become more complex as of this Sunday.

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    As local and foreign public and private aid has reached the most affected territories, the debate has focused on the origin of the flames. The National Forestry Corporation (Conaf) reported this week that about 41% of the forest fires investigated in Biobio, La Araucania and Nuble during this season (starts in July 2022), have been intentionally generated. At the national level, intentionality is 25%. One of the sectors most affected by the wave of fires has been agriculture.

    The Minister of Agriculture, Esteban Valenzuela, reported that two thirds of those affected are users of the Institute for Agricultural Development (INDAP, dedicated to powers small agricultural producers and peasants), 45% are women and 26% Mapuche between Nuble and Araucania. . 70% of those affected are low-income people. Valenzuela assured that the Government has doubled the investigation units of the origin of the fires: from 12 to 24, made up of two technicians and specialists per region.

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    The three right-wing parties of Chile Vamos met with the national prosecutor, Angel Valencia, to ask him to place special emphasis on “high degrees of intentionality” in his investigation into the fires. Right-wing senator Javier Macaya, president of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party, announced that Congress will also seek to sanction eventual “political responsibilities.”

    From the Biobio Regional Prosecutor’s Office, Valencia clarified that in terms of intentionality and negligence, they are not going to deliver any figures. “We are not going to do it out of responsibility. We are investigating all the hypotheses, there is a history of fires caused intentionally and by negligence ”, he assured. The national prosecutor reported on the creation of a special team to coordinate the fires in the so-called Southern Macrozone where they will use computer resources and criminal analysis, to “consider all the fires in the southern zone as a major criminal event.”

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