SANTIAGO – About 20 tourists had to be evacuated over the past few hours due to a forest fire affecting a sector of Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile, authorities reported Wednesday.
The tourists are being housed in a shelter two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the central fire zone, located north of Grey Lake. By midday Wednesday, the fire had burned some 20 hectares (50 acres) of native forest and brush country, according to a report by the Conaf forest service.
The flames sprang up late on Tuesday along a hiking path and although the cause of the blaze has not yet been established, authorities suspect that it might have been due to a park visitor’s campfire that was improperly extinguished.
The park is located 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) south of Santiago.
The difficult access to the site of the fire and winds of up to 80 kph (50 mph) have hindered fire brigades in battling the blaze, Conaf said.
The efforts to fight the fire are being conducted by 67 Conaf firefighters, and officials with the Regional Emergency Office have declared a red alert for Ultima Esperanza province.
Authorities also requested help from the Chilean army and firefighters from the nearby Argentine town of Rio Turbio.
The park is one of the most visited by tourists in Chilean Patagonia. In February 2005, a fire caused by a careless Czech tourist destroyed 13,880 hectares (34,700 acres) there.
The tourist, Jiri Smitak, was arrested and put on trial, but he apologized and the Czech government ultimately agreed to finance the reforestation of the area that was destroyed. EFE