Chile forest arson suspect denies he set fire

01/01/2012 07:14 EST | Updated 03/02/2012 05:12 EST

Firefighters are making progress against a major blaze in one of Chile's most spectacular national parks, the government said Sunday, and the Israeli tourist accused of setting the fire denied guilt.

Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter announced that light rain and diminished winds had helped emergency workers control three of the six areas of the fire at the Torres del Paine park, though the blaze has burned more 12,500 hectares since starting Tuesday.

A court on Saturday ordered Rotem Singer, a 23-year-old Israeli citizen, to remain in the region while he faces charges of negligently setting the blaze. Officials said he failed to completely extinguish a fire set to burn toilet paper at a camp.

Singer denied responsibility in an interview Sunday with Israeli Army Radio.

"It's important for me to say that it wasn't me. They've placed the blame on me," Singer said.

He said he was not sure how he became "the main suspect" and was waiting for a lawyer to arrive from Santiago.

If convicted, Singer could face a fine and 41 to 60 days in jail, though Chilean law can allow short sentences to be served outside confinement if the convicted person appears to periodically register with officials.

More than 500 firefighters are trying to quell the fire, which forced officials to evacuate 400 tourists and close the park, famed for its dramatic, snowcapped peaks, through January, damaging the economy of the area.