Fire ripped through a vast swathe of forestland close to the popular tourist town of El Bolsón in Río Negro Province this week, destroying more than 8,500 hectares.
In just three days, officials said that an area half the size of Liechtenstein had been ravaged by the inferno. Around a hundred firefighters, 26 fire trucks, two water-bombing helicopters and two planes were deployed to quench the flames.
By Wednesday, it had destroyed more than 8,000 hectares, local officials said, with fears over its potential spread to Chubut Province via the town of El Maitén. Vegetation parched by recent drought, high temperatures and strong winds complicated firefighting efforts.
El Bolsón's civil protection official Leandro Romairone said rain was aiding efforts, but "not enough to have a decisive impact on firefighting."
No populated area is immediately threatened, and "no evacuation is planned at this time," he told the AFP news agency.
Temperatures dropped on Thursday as light rain hit the region, slowing the flames advances only partially. One local outlet, Diario Río Negro, said as much as 10,000 hectares had been damaged.
Fernando Arbat, provincial undersecretary for forest resources, told the Télam state news agency on Wednesday that "the environmental damage is very serious."
At least four firefighters have been treated in hospital for injuries sustained in the line of duty.
Río Negro Province Governor Arabela Carreras toured the area on Tuesday and said that authorities were working on a hypothesis that "an oversight" may have generated "this environmental disaster," with a police investigation underway.
By Thursday, those efforts had advanced, with police officers raiding a home 10 kilometres from El Bolsón, home to some 18,000 inhabitants.
Investigators told local outlets that they believed the remnants of an asado barbeque could have started the flames, while the Infobae website quoted an unnamed police source declaring that searches of a property had yielded “positive results” and “useful evidence.” Nine mobile phones and three vehicles were seized.
According to reports, the individual responsible for the asado may face potential charges for environmental damage.
Carreras said that prosecutors would seek “the maximum penalty” for those responsible and said investigators had been given “clear indications” about the identity of the person responsible.
The governor said that “from the air you can see very clearly the place where the fire started, which is a private home."
The Télam state news agency reported Thursday that police believe the suspect hosted a barbeque on his property for a number of relatives, who live nearby.