Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Argentina pilot fighting forest fire survives crash

THE pilot of a plane being used to fight a forest fire in Argentina's Patagonia region has survived a crash, officials say.

Firefighters found the pilot, whose plane went down while battling the out-of-control fire in the province of Chubut.

The pilot was taken to a hospital in the tourist town of El Hoyo, which was declared an emergency area because of its proximity to a burning hill, Chubut forest service chief Rodrigo Robeta said.

The blaze has scorched about 100 hectares on the hill, Robeta said.

The emergency management office has evacuated dozens of tourists who were camping around the Los Alerces lagoon, located across from the burning hill, which is in the Andes mountain range on the border between Argentina and Chile, Robeta said.

The drought in Patagonia has helped fires on both sides of the border to spread, Robeta told Argentine radio station.

The fire was caused by someone and is out of control despite the efforts of about 80 firefighters to put it out, El Hoyo Mayor Mirco Szudruk said, adding that aerial water tankers began providing support on Wednesday.

About 30 people living in the forest near the burning hill will be evacuated in the next few hours, Szudruk said.

Tens of thousands of hectares of forest have burned in neighbouring Chile in the past few days.

The biggest blaze has destroyed more than 19,000 hectares of forest and cropland in the southern Chilean region of Bio Bio.

A fire affecting Torres del Paine National Park in Chile's remote southern Magallanes region has destroyed more than 13,300 hectares since last week and is being fought by about 1,000 people, including soldiers and forest service personnel, as well as firefighters from Argentina and Uruguay.

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