Aid reaches victims of Chile’s worst forest fire in decades

Aid reaches victims of Chile’s worst forest fire in decades

18 February 2013

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Chile — Authorities reported positive progress over the weekend in the delivery of aid to victims of Valparaíso’s worst forest fire in decades. The blaze devastated the port city last week, destroying about 100 homes.

Undersecretary of Social Development Loreto Seguel and the mayor of Valparaíso, Raúl Celis, made the assessment after a three-day collective effort from the National Emergency Office (ONEMI), police, firefighters and hundreds of volunteers.

ONEMI issued a red alert Thursday after the inferno destroyed 100 homes and displaced more than 1,200 people in the hills above the port of Valparaíso, about 75 miles northeast of Santiago.

Although firefighters have controlled the blaze, the situation remains dire for those in emergency shelters. President Sebastián Piñera returned from vacation early on Friday to visit those affected by the blaze, pledging to rebuild the community.

“President Sebastián Piñera has directed us to reach families. This is why we are coordinating the ground delivery of water, food, mattresses, blankets — things that allow for effective emergency support. We have also started the extraction and removal of rubble, which is essential in order to start the process of reconstruction,” Seguel said.
Celis stressed a main priority of the emergency plan was to provide resources to families located in Rodelillo Hills, San Roque and Placeres. Large parts of those neighborhoods remain difficult to access.

“To date, we have delivered 1,500 mattresses, 3,000 blankets, 3,000 servings of food, 600 hygiene kits for a week, 16 chemical baths and we hope to reach 30 [of those],” Celis said.

Meanwhile, Chilean police have arrested the man charged with responsibility of the fire, who was working at the RVC construction company when the flames began.

The 27-year-old mason, Carlos Rivas Quiroz, confessed on Saturday to accidentally igniting the blaze with a welder’s torch. He offered a public apology to those affected by the incident.

The National Confederation of Construction Workers (CNTC) expressed solidarity with Quiroz, offering to support him with any legal action. The union rejected the accusations against the welder, arguing that RVC must assume full responsibility for not applying the adequate security required by law.

CNTC President José Santos Hernández said in a statement that Quiroz was being made a scapegoat by the company “in the sense that a worker is being explicitly judged as a criminal pyromaniac that did this intentionally.”

“The opinions broadcasted on television by officials from the Carabineros incriminate the worker” Hernández said. “The worker recognizes that he did it. He was working and accidentally set off a spark.”

RVC General Manager Roberto Bascuñán said in an interview with 24 Horas collaborated with authorities to deliver all the information available for the investigation.

A written statement released by Quiroz claimed that a manager had pressured him to lie, telling police he was painting instead of welding at the time the flames began.

In response to these accusations, Bascuñán said RVC will wait for the findings of the investigation and “will not evade any responsibility.”


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