Giant fire engulfs Argentina`s Patagonia region

A giant fire ravaged huge swaths of forest in Argentina`s Patagonia region on Friday, threatening to engulf villages and a national park with thousand-year-old trees.

Buenos Aires: A giant fire ravaged huge swaths of forest in Argentina`s Patagonia region on Friday, threatening to engulf villages and a national park with thousand-year-old trees.

More than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of forest were destroyed by the flames, which were apparently sparked by lightning 11 days ago in the Cholila lake region, officials said.

Evaristo Melo, head of civil defense in southern Chubut province, said it was "the worst fire of this kind in the Argentine Patagonia," with a blaze that is 30 kilometers (19 miles) long and 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) wide.

"The situation is distressing. It`s complicated and difficult to resolve," said Antonio Reato, mayor of the picturesque mountain village of Epuyen, population 2,500.

"There are dead animals everywhere. The losses are numerous," Reato said.

Los Alerces Mayor Daniel Crosta said that the fire was 4.5 kilometers in a direct line from the Larches National Park, one of the jewels of the South American country because it is home to millenary larch trees.

Firefighting operations chief Jose Saldivia said the disaster was "contained in its propagation but not controlled." 

Some 200 rescuers were battling the fire, with six airplanes, helicopters and other equipment. Work is complicated because the rough terrain makes it hard to reach the fire by foot.

But the aircraft haven`t been used in three days because of the massive smoke.

Some 20 families have been evacuated. Local residents said 200 cows were killed.

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