Business, Finance & Economics

Israeli tourist says he didn't start fire in Chilean national park


A massive forest fire rages uncontrolled at the Torres del Paine National Park in the Patagonian steppe in southern Chile on December 31, 2011. Chilean firefighters on Saturday tried to contain the massive wildfire that has ravaged tens of thousands of acres of pristine Patagonia and forced authorities to close the popular national park.


Francisco Quiroz

An Israeli backpacker suspected of starting a wildfire at Chile's Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia has denied the allegations against him.

"It wasn't me, they put the blame on me. I supposedly confessed, but I didn't really confess," Rotem Singer, 23, told the Army Radio station Galatz on Sunday, according to YNet News.

Singer, whose passport has been confiscated by the Chilean authorities, was expected to report to a Chilean police station once a week, YNet reported.

The Israeli backpacker described the reactions he got from locals while being escorted to court, saying the crowd shouted "asshole" and "Jew" at him. 

Meanwhile, thanks to light rain and diminished winds firefighters were reportedly making progress against the blaze in one of Chile's most spectacular national parks, the Associated Press cited the government as saying Sunday.

The fire has burned more 48 square miles of the park — a 2,400-square-kilometer wilderness containing mountains, glaciers, natural forests and lakes visited by more than 100,000 people each year — since Tuesday.

Singer faces charges of negligently setting the blaze after officials said he failed to completely extinguish a fire set to burn toilet paper at a camp.

He told Israeli Radio that he was not sure how he became "the main suspect" and was waiting for a lawyer to arrive from Santiago. 

"I'm OK. My dad is on his way to Chile and my attorney is expected to arrive from Santiago. There are people supporting me and they're coming to help me."

Singer's family have also defended his innocence.

"He could not have caused this disaster. He was a kilometre away from the fire when his friends woke him up," Hezi Singer, his father, told Israeli radio, the BBC reported. "The Chilean authorities are looking for a scapegoat," he added.

His grandfather, Gilad Harel, told Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper that Singer was "a responsible person, who served in a combat unit in the army."