Torres del Paine Blaze
Israeli tourist denies starting fire at Patagonia national park
Israeli tourist Rotem Singer, 23, suspected of starting a wildfire at Chile's Patagonia national park Torres del Paine, denied the allegations against him during a radio interview. "It wasn't me, they put the blame on me. I supposedly confessed, but I didn't really confess," he told the Army Radio station Galatz on Sunday.
Singer is expected to report to a Chilean police station once a week and his passport has been taken away from him. The Israeli backpacker described the reactions he got from locals while being escorted to court, saying the crowd shouted "asshole" and "Jew" at him.
"They attacked me on my way back from court. I was really afraid I'd be hurt," he said.
As for the investigation, Singer explained he had no idea what was going on. "I have an English translator but somehow the whole thing just evolved. I didn't really understand how I became the main suspect. I didn't think the trial would be conducted the way that it did. They didn't translate most of what was going on. I had a local lawyer who spoke Spanish and I didn't quite understand what I was accused of. I didn't give any testimony."
Singer, a Ness Ziona resident, explained he "supposedly confessed, but didn't really confess. I've had a rough few hours, but I believe the whole issue will be sorted out within a few days."
One of Singer's friends currently staying with him in a Chilean hostel, told about his experience in the local courthouse. "We were shoved to a corner, we were really scared. They cursed at us, even in Hebrew," he recalled. "A police officer told us to escape before the end of the hearing, for our own personal safety. The tourism here is entirely based on the national park. There are almost no tourists here due to the fire, because the park is closed."
'We did not stall'
Chile's Minister of Interior and Public Security Rodrigo Hinzpeter rejected the Israeli tourists' claims that the wildfire at Chile's Patagonia national park spread quickly due to the firefighters' slow response to the emergency call. He stated that firefighters began extinguishment efforts less than three after learning about the blaze, as a state of emergency was announced.
Singer's friends told local authorities that the firefighters arrived only 12 hours after the emergency call was made.
Hinzpeter stated that the fire is now under control in three of the six locations in the park. According to him, the blaze will be fully contained within a few days at the latest.
Some 11,000 hectares (27,200 acres) of woodland and scrub, nearly four percent of the total area of the park, have already been destroyed by the blaze.