Saturday, June 3, 2023

How a plot owner unleashed a megafire that destroyed 600 hectares

—I felt like something was triggered.

The previous 23 January was not going to be another one of those hot summer days that Gilberto Esette Merchant spent on his plot Ranquil is located in the Paso Hondo sector of the Ñuble region., That day, the 57-year-old worker from Concepcion decided to do a daily act that has led him to face legal action today. He created the spark that lit the prairie.

It was a Monday, and the heat was no deterrent to accomplishing a specific farm task: pull weeds. It didn’t seem like a bad decision, especially given the progress of wildfires in the area and the importance of keeping areas near homes clear of vegetation.

According to the official reports given by the Corporation of National Forestry (CONAF) to BBCL Investiga, at that time in the season which started on July 1, 2022, 3,720 forest fires have already broken out across the country That they had burned more than 60 thousand hectares. In the Nubel region alone, the figure reached 322, with more than 1,170 hectares destroyed.

Now, four months later, the Quirihue local prosecutor’s office has requested a hearing to formalize an investigation into the crime of arson against the owner of the plot where an incident occurred that consumed more than 600 hectares.

A pause, a sound

Cleaning the area shouldn’t be such a difficult task, especially if one has the right tools. The brushcutter – similar to an “edge trimmer” but with metal blades – was effective for the purpose.

after 2:00 p.m., Asset Merchant decides to take a break to relax, He was doing the same when he heard the noise of burning branches where he was cleaning. This was the beginning of chaos.

The professional worker would later declare to the police, “In a matter of seconds I felt as if something was on fire and I look outside and see a flame a few meters from the exit of the shed.”

Gusts of wind made efforts to extinguish the fire futile. The flames burnt the dry grass and bushes on the spot to ashes. The same fate befell a small shed and a car owned by the respondent which was parked inside the site.

Full deployment

The fire moved rapidly and without control to the east, later reaching the areas of Carrizales and Nueva Aldea. It devastated forests and even threatened to reach the neighboring plant of Cellulosa Que Arauco. something that would end weeks later, but due to another fire.

A few minutes before 3:00 p.m. and with the state of emergency being issued, Neighbors stopped a police vehicle from Nipas post patrolling the sector, He condemned the spot where the fire started, so the officials immediately went to the spot.

In parallel, the owner of the plot and other neighbors dialed emergency telephone numbers. The deployment was thorough to prevent the fire from harming homes or people.

A preliminary report from the Carabineros, which this outlet had access to, indicates that around a hundred volunteers from Ranquil, Coelemu, Portezuelo, Quillón, Bulnes and Quirihue firefighters tried to contain the flames.

For the same purpose, Konaf had four bulldozers, two helicopters, two tanker aircraft, one skidder, as well as technical personnel and members of the brigade.

For its part, Arauco deployed over a hundred people, including brigade members and technical staff. Not only this, the company’s eight most modern helicopters and five water-dropping aircraft also came in handy in case of emergency.

In this scenario, the Regional Directorate of the National Disaster Prevention and Response Service (SENAPRED) decided to declare a communal red alert for Rancil in Ñuble. At 3:45 p.m., text messages began arriving asking residents of the Paso Hondo sector to evacuate to safe areas.

The spark that lit the prairie

Based on information initially compiled by the Carabineros and a criminal complaint filed by Forrestal Arauco, the prosecutor’s office launched an informal investigation to determine responsibilities.

Thus, expert reports were obtained from the investigating police detectives, the results of which point to the asset merchant as the sole person responsible.

According to information seen by BBCL Investiga, after a thorough analysis at the spot where the flames originated, police officers concluded that the accident was caused by sparks produced by the rubbing of the brushcutter knives against some stones, That started a fire in the prairie.

This was evident upon detailed examination of the tool stones and blades, which showed clear signs of striking each other.

About 600 hectares of vegetation and forest were destroyed, not the only result of the fire which originated in the Eset Merchant Plot.

As a result of this fire, a volunteer from the Portzuelo Fire Department was injured. He had to be shifted to Chillan after he was hit by a high-pressure water jet. Meanwhile, a Quilon firefighter suffered burns on his back and arms, among injuries classified as minor. And another volunteer from the same commune was injured in his right knee.


Thus, Quirihue, the deputy prosecutor(s) of María de los Ángeles Cáceres, requested a formal hearing to inform the accused of the charges of the crime of arson.

By order of the Substitute Judge Claudia González of the Colému Guaranty Court, the instance will take place on June 27 at 10:00 am.

BBCL Investiga tried to obtain a version of the accused without result till the end of this edition

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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