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6 Firefighters Killed in Chile Forest Fires


Rescue team members carry the body of a firefighter after a forest fire near Temuco city, south of Santiago, January 5, 2012.

Rescue team members carry the body of a firefighter after a forest fire near Temuco city, south of Santiago, January 5, 2012.

Chilean officials believe a wildfire that killed six firefighters was deliberately set.

President Sebastian Pinera on Thursday authorized a criminal investigation into the blaze, saying the culprits should be held responsible under Chile's severe anti-terrorism law.

Nearly 50 wildfires have sprung up in the country's south in the last two weeks, forcing the evacuations of thousands of people and destroying 50,000 hectares of woodland and hundreds of homes.

Authorities said Thursday, flames fueled by shifting winds swept over a group of 10 firefighters battling a forest fire in the Araucania region.

Six firefighters died and two had to be rescued. One firefighter was able to escape on his own, while another is reportedly missing.

In southern Chile, officials have reopened part of Torres del Paine national park, which was closed for several days after fire destroyed more than 14,000 hectares of land.

Israeli citizen, Rotem Singer, 23, was arrested then released on bond on suspicion of starting the fire. He has been ordered to remain in Chile pending his trial. Prosecutors say that during a court hearing, he admitted to not properly putting out a roll of toilet paper he set on fire in the park.

The worst of the blazes has been in Chile's Bio Bio region, where as many as 162 homes have gone up in flames, along with a timber mill. In one area, a 75-year-old man died after refusing warnings to leave his home.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.

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