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ARGENTINA | 29-01-2024 10:17

Chubut governor: Fire in Los Alerces National Park caused by arson

Firefighters continue to battle flames that are ravaging Los Alerces National Park; Chubut Province Governor Ignacio Torres alleges blaze was started by RAM Mapuche indigenous group.

A fire that has already destroyed around 1,000 hectares of the Los Alerces National Park in Argentina's south is the result of arson, an official said Sunday.

"We have confirmed that the fire originated intentionally," said Chubut Province Governor Ignacio Torres after flying over the Patagonian national park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to inspect the destruction.

"Those responsible for starting the fire will have to answer to the courts," he added, calling for "exemplary measures."

Torres had alleged in an earlier interview with Radio Rivadavia that the fire was started by members of the Resistencia Ancestral Mapuche (Mapuche Ancestral Resistance, RAM), the controversial indigenous group which claims land taken by the state during the 19th century and advocates against logging.

"The problem is not indigenous people but these criminals who take land under false flags. They do it in Neuquén, they do it in Río Negro, they do it in Chubut. I think it is time to put a definitive stop to it," he had said, highlighting that relations with the RAM group were strained.

Firefighters are battling the blaze that has ravaged the park for three days, trying to prevent the flames from reaching the nearby towns of Esquel (population 37,000) and Trevelin (population 8,000), about 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires.

They are being supported by two hydrant planes, an observation aircraft and two water-bombing helicopters, according to official information.

The fire started in the national park on Thursday night near the Centinela river, near Rosales BAy on Lake Futalaufquen. Withiin hours it had to wider terrain and forests.

"The fire is still active in all its sectors" and "several days of work" are expected, Mario Cardenas, the head of the park's Fire, Communications and Emergencies (ICE) department told the Télam state news agency on Sunday. 

A statement from the Chubut governor's office said the work on Sunday was complicated by weather conditions, which caused smoke to hang over the area and reduce visibility.

More than 250 firefighters are fighting the blaze with the help of two hydrant planes, an observation aircraft and two helicopters with water-launching helicopters.

Temperatures in Patagonia, a normally cold and windy region in Argentina's far south, have topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the southern hemisphere summer, with two provinces declaring states of emergency due to fire risk until April.

Los Alerces Park covers more than 260,000 hectares. Glaciers have shaped the landscape of the region, creating strings of ponds and lakes, hanging valleys and rivers.

It is also home to pristine forests of alerce trees, the second-longest living tree species in the world.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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