Rotem Singer, 23
SANTIAGO -- Investigators in Chile arrested an Israeli tourist Saturday who they believe inadvertently set off a massive wildfire that has ravaged tens of thousands of acres of pristine forest land in Patagonia.
"An Israeli citizen has been arrested as the perpetrator, presumably in an act of negligence," said Patagonia's prosecutor Juan Melendez, speaking on Chilean radio, without identifying the suspect.
High winds fanned the blaze at the Torres del Paine National Park, a 600,000 acre (240,100 hectare) paradise of mountains, glaciers, natural forests and lakes in deep southern Chile visited by more than 100,000 people each year.
After meeting emergency officials struggling to get a grip on the inferno, President Sebastian Pinera announced the park would remain shut throughout January.
Some 27,200 acres (11,000 hectares) of woodland and scrub, nearly four percent of the total area of the park, has already been destroyed by the blaze, which more than quadrupled in size in less than 24 hours.
The Chilean government has deployed four planes and a helicopter to the remote mountainous region, where 300 firefighters, soldiers and forest rangers were engaged in a desperate effort to get the inferno under control.
Aerial photographs showed a vast cloud of smoke obscuring the beautiful backdrop of snow-clad granite peaks, wild steppes and turquoise lakes.