Although it may seem incredible, the worst fire in the history of It was caused by a firefighter with the help of a former brigade member. That is the conclusion reached by investigators about the origin of the tragedy that last February left 137 dead, thousands of houses destroyed and 16,000 victims in the city of Viña del Mar, in the region. .

Firefighter Francisco Ignacio Mondaca Mella22 years old, was arrested on Friday, May 24, by personnel from the Investigative Police (PDI). The Prosecutor’s Office accuses him of being the perpetrator of the fire. While his alleged accomplice identified as Franco Pintoan official of the National Forestry Corporation (Conaf), would be the intellectual author of the incident.

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They are both in preventive prison and have been accused of the crime of fire resulting in death. Both could be sentenced to life in prison.

Vehicles and homes burn during a fire in Viña del Mar, Chile, on February 2, 2024. (Photo by Javier TORRES/AFP).


As recalled, on February 2, several fires broke out simultaneously in the surroundings of Viña del Mar110 km northwest of Santiago, which later caused the worst tragedy in Chili since the 2010 earthquake that left 550 dead.

The key evidence found in one of the fire sources

The fire started on Friday, February 2, after noon in four outbreaks located in the Lake Peñuelas Natural Park and spread rapidly to the hills surrounding the city of Viña del Mar and also jumped to the towns of Quilpue and German Villaall in the region of Valparaisodue to strong gusts of wind and extreme temperatures.

According to the newspaper which agreed to the official investigation, as soon as the emergency was declared that February 2, by order of the Prosecutor’s Office, PDI officials arrived at the places from where the fires started. On route F-718 it was possible to establish that there were four sources of fire. The sectors were identified as Las Taguas, Antena de Melosilla, La Isla and Las Tablas.

Two of the fire sources were extinguished a few meters after starting, but sources 3 and 4 could not be extinguished and are the ones that caused the great emergency. In focus 3, the researchers found key evidenceindicated La Tercera.

“While exploring the affected area, on the ground, among the grass and leaves, it was possible to identify the presence of a device, which presents a preparation in its preparation,” says a PDI report accessed by La Tercera. It was a cigarette butt surrounded by matches, which were tied by a thread.

The researchers’ report indicates that the mechanism found in focus 3 was not completely burned, but was charred. “The fire did not pass over it, but rather advanced according to the availability of fuel,” the investigation maintains.

An incendiary device was found in the house of the detained firefighter.  (PDI).

An incendiary device was found in the house of the detained firefighter. (PDI).

Having this key evidence, The PDI tested how it worked and the damage that this mechanism caused.

A similar mechanism was found intact last Friday in Mondaca’s house, during the search carried out after his arrest. Specifically, at inside a cell phone case were found cigarettes that had several matches tied to them.


The clue that led to the firefighter

Firefighter Francisco Ignacio Mondaca Mella was arrested.

Firefighter Francisco Ignacio Mondaca Mella was arrested.

After finding the key test which determined that The fire had been intentionally set, investigators searched for possible witnesses and reviewed security cameras in the area. After hours of analyzing the images, they were able to detect a list of cars, of which they reached “two vehicles of interest,” one Fiat brand, gray, and a white Suzuki S-Pressoreview La Tercera.

Supported by more video images, the POI reconstructed the routes those cars took on February 2. Thus, they found the license plate of the Fiat and they were able to reach their driver, who was interviewed and stated that he was traveling through the fire area for work. The person also provided key information, stating that on February 2 he was able to see a white car.

La Tercera maintains that while the police were making a tour of the Placillathey spotted the white Suzuki S-Presso that they had seen on the cameras, and for which they did not have the license plate. It was parked outside the 13th Placilla Fire Company.

Once the vehicle data was obtained, the police carried out investigations to find out who was driving it. This is how they were able to reach firefighter Francisco Mondacawho had been honored by his company a few weeks ago for completing 12 months as active staff.

The researchers followed up Mondaca to determine who he frequented and what places he used to go. They were able to determine that I had been a Firefighter volunteer for a year and a half. and who also worked on events for a foundation of the singer DJ Méndez in the region.

The agents also requested judicial authorization to know the traffic of calls from Mondaca and the places through which it moved. Thus, they determined that on February 2, before noon, she had been in the Route F-718, the place where the fires started.

The location of the fires in Valparaíso.  (AFP).

The location of the fires in Valparaíso. (AFP).

La Tercera reported that the telephone number of Mondaca He provided details of his calls. The firefighter made a call to Franco Pintothe official of the National Forestry Corporation.

When investigating Pinto, they determined that he had already been on the police radar, as he testified as a witness for another fire in the Peñuelas Reserve, where he worked. That time he drew the attention of the police to the type of photos he had taken in that accident, indicates La Tercera.

Once all the information is gathered, The police and the Prosecutor’s Office reconstructed the routes and positioned Mondaca, through georeferencing records, in the place of the fires. Now, the file against him contains thousands of data and hundreds of pages that place him as the material author of the fire.

The prosecutor specializing in fires, Osvaldo Ossandón, explained that in the vehicle of Mondaca Flares and fireworks were found.

According to the AP agency, the Prosecutor’s Office has for the moment ruled out antecedents that indicate psychiatric conditions linked to pyromania in both detainees and pointed to a economic motivation to generate fires. This is based on the declaration of Mondacawho affirms that the other accused, Franco PintoI would have told you about a greater benefit when there are multiple fires to ensure work.

The Conaf brigade member would have told him that “If the fire season actually continues, more personnel are hired, overtime is earned and (Conaf) contracts are extended.” At this point, it is necessary to highlight that the firefighters in Chili They don’t get a salary.

Pinto would have shown Mondaca how to start the fire so that the fire would catch and be successful, in addition to showing him how build artisanal incendiary devices.

“We have evidence that they previously agreed to carry out conduct of this type when the meteorological conditions were suitable for a fire of proportions,” stated the regional prosecutor of Valparaíso, Claudia Perivancich.

A woman with her baby walks past burned vehicles after a forest fire in Quilpue, Valparaíso region, Chile, on February 4, 2024. (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP).

A woman with her baby walks past burned vehicles after a forest fire in Quilpue, Valparaíso region, Chile, on February 4, 2024. (Photo by RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP).


“We are completely devastated”

Mondaca was arrested on Friday in the 13th Placilla Fire Company. Sources in the case told the newspaper that his teammates “couldn’t believe it, they said he’s a quiet guy.”

Juan Paredes, superintendent of Valparaíso Firefighters, maintained that “He had passed all his psychological tests well.”

“We are completely devastated by what happened.. “It is a completely isolated incident and we want to clarify it as soon as possible,” said Commander Vicente Maggiolo.

“We have been serving Valparaiso and we cannot allow ourselves to have this type of situation, so we are going to make a much stronger statement,” he added.

For his part, the Executive Director of Conaf, Christian Little, said he was surprised and described it as “a pain” that hits the institution and its workers that one of its former officials – who had been working for the organization for 10 years during the fire season — is involved in this fact.

“Although it is very shocking, it is good news,” said Interior Minister Carolina Toha on Saturday. “The fact that they are found and face justice is an act of reparation” for the victims. She added that it will be necessary to strengthen the mechanisms to control the profile of those who enter these institutions.