As forest fires rage on President Pinera declares Florida, Quillon, Ranque and San Rosendo 'catastrophe zones'.
Last Modified: 03 Jan 2012 10:11
"We have a situation of extreme vulnerability," said President Sebastian Pinera, who called for tougher sentences for arson.
"We declared catastrophe zones in the counties of Florida, Quillon, Ranque and also San Rosendo," Piniera told reporters.
One man has been killed, more than a hundred homes have been destroyed, and more than 23,000 hectares of forest and part of the scenic Torres del Paine national park has burnt.
The fires also claimed their first victim on Monday - an elderly man who refused warnings to leave his home.
Chile's normally rainy southern regions are suffering from a nationwide heat wave that have followed a prolonged drought.
The country was battling 48 separate fires on Sunday alone.
In the Bio Bio region, the timber industry is threatened by fire that destroyed an Arauco company paper mill.
Shares in Arauco's parent company, Copec SA, dropped nearly 4 per cent in Monday trading. One of the Bio Bio fires also killed the 75-year-old man who refused to evacuate.
Hundreds of others who did leave their homes were forced to relocate yet again early on Monday as the flames advanced.
In Magallanes, more than 7 per cent of the famed Torres del Paine national park had burned, ruining vacations for some of the 150,000 tourists who come each year, mostly during the brief southern summer.
Strong winds grounded helicopters and planes for long periods, leaving the fight to more than 750 firefighters on the ground, who have contained four of six areas where the fire spread.
Authorities hoped to reopen the northern section of the park to tourists later in the week.
President Pinera on Tuesday issued a stern warning to whoever started the fires.
"I want to assure the people who ... voluntarily started these fires and caused all this damage: We are going to prosecute you with all the force of the world and apply all the weight of the law."
An Israeli tourist, Rotem Singer, 23, has denied a charge of negligently starting the Torres del Paine fire, but prosecutor Ivan Vidal said Singer's travelling companions said he set fire to toilet paper after going to the bathroom, and then failed to put it out completely.
If convicted, he faces up to two months in jail.