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ARGENTINA | 01-02-2024 15:45

Los Alerces National Park: Fire burns 2,300 hectares amid heat alert

Firefighters still suppressing flames ravaging Patagonian national park; Chubut Province Governor Ignacio Torres alleges blaze was started by RAM Mapuche indigenous group.

More than 200 firefighters were still battling flames in Los Alerces national park in Patagonia on Thursday as a sweltering heatwave ripped across Argentina.

Flames have already burnt through 2,300 hectares of land, much of it in the national park, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Two forest fire planes and three helicopters with Bambi buckets are also fighting the fire, which has been active for almost a week.

The head of the park, Danilo Hernández Otaño, stated that the fire is “spreading” without any inhabited area being in danger.

Otaño specified that 70 percent of the fire is within the park and 30 percent is in Chubut Province. He said weather conditions are not favourable given the high temperatures, which hit record-breaking heights in some Patagonian cities.

Mario Cardenas, head of the park's fire, communications and emergency department, said earlier in the weekthat "the fire is out of control.”

Conditions are "unfavourable because we still have a lot of wind and high temperatures. This makes our work very difficult," he said.

A fire also broke out in Lanín National Park, in Neuquén Province, on the southern margin of Rucachoroy Lake. Flames ripped through an important sector of native forest of ñire and araucarias, and would have reached an estimated size of 12 hectares. The fire is contained, but the fighters remain on alert.

Chubut Province rescue workers were also trying to block flames from reaching the towns of Esquel and Trevelin, about 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) southwest of Buenos Aires.


Heat wave

Extreme temperature alerts were issued in 20 of the 24 provinces across the country, and the thermometer is expected to soar above 42 degrees Celsius in some regions over the next few days, particularly in the province of Mendoza, which is in red alert, according to the SMN National Weather Service.

Several Patagonian cities have topped the ranking of the highest temperatures in the country in January, a scale usually dominated by the central and northern regions.

The phenomenon left the highest marks since records have been kept in Trelew, capital of Chubut, with 42.6 degrees Celsius, and 36.4° C in Bariloche (Río Negro Province), a winter tourist centre in the foothills of the Andes. The previous records in these cities were 42.2°C in 2017 and 35.4°C in 2019, respectively.

There were also monthly record highs in El Bolsón, in Río Negro, with 37.4°C against 36.9 in 1999; and Esquel, in Chubut, with 34.7°C (against 33.8 in 1979). 

Buenos Aires is also feeling the heat, with temperatures reaching 36 degrees Celsius midweek.

"It has nothing to do with the El Niño phenomenon, which affects this region with an increase in precipitation, higher humidity in the lower layers and greater cloudiness, which moderates temperatures," explained meteorologist Matías Reinoso.


'Intentional' causes

Otaño added that the fire had been “intentional,” a claim also made last Sunday by Chubut Governor Ignacio Torres.

Torres said there were people squatting in the park and alleged that the Mapuche Ancestral Resistance (RAM) indigenous group had started the fires. He distinguished between indigenous communities and RAM, whom he characterised as having a “real-estate business.”

Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni stated on Monday that the government “doesn’t condone squatting or terrorist attacks.”

The Los Alerces National Park, with an area of 260,000 hectares on the foothills of the Andes, is lined with lakes, rivers and streams. It also houses ancient tree species, such as the Chilean myrtle and the coihue, and is home to the oldest known larch forest.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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