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Chile authorities say forest fires deliberate

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Santiago (AFP)

Chilean authorities said Thursday that forest fires in the tourist port city of Valparaiso, which left dozens of families homeless at Christmas, were started deliberately.

No one died in the blazes that broke out on Tuesday and burned 150 hectares (370 acres) of forest, leaving 12 volunteer firefighters injured and affecting around 700 people living in 245 homes.

But the Public Ministry, which is investigating the cause of the fires that began on two hills, described them as "highly intentional."

"We have evidence from photos, videos and conversations with locals that those fires in Valparaiso were produced intentionally," said Agriculture Minister Antonio Walker.

The Valparaiso area is hot and dry at this time of year, but the government believes several other fires that have broken out recently have been started deliberately.

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera traveled to the area on Thursday to lead the investigation.

The government has announced subsidies for those affected to build new houses.

Due to its 44 hills, which are mostly difficult to access, and its dense vegetation, fires are quite common in Valparaiso, which lies 120 kilometers (75 miles) to the west of the capital Santiago.

In 2014, 15 people died and more than 3,000 homes were destroyed in a huge forest fire.

Walker said more than 15,000 hectares have been affected by forest fires since July 1, whereas only 4,500 hectares were destroyed last year.

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