A wildfire raging in the south of Argentina has consumed a vast swathe of forestland in three days, local authorities said Wednesday – an area half the size of Liechtenstein.
About a hundred firefighters, 26 fire trucks, two water-bombing helicopters and two planes are fighting to contain the blaze in a region unaccustomed to forest fires, officials said.
The blaze, its origins unknown, is threatening a vast region around the popular tourist town of El Bolsón, home to some 18,000 inhabitants in the Río Negro Province in northern Patagonia.
By Wednesday, it had destroyed more than 8,500 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 have complicated the firefighting effort.
El Bolsón's civil protection official Leandro Romairone said rain was expected later Wednesday, 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 AFP.
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 walked on a hypothesis that "an oversight" may have generated "this environmental disaster."
A police investigation is underway to determine who is responsible for the blaze.