One dead, several missing in Argentina forest fires

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The fires, which authories suspect were started deliberately early this week, have reached several towns near the foothills of the Andes mountains, and have sonumed about 1,500 hectares of forest

One person has died and 11 are reported missing as forest fires have blazed through Argentina's Patagonia region for days, officials reported Friday.

Dozens of people have been evacuated from the path of the advancing flames, and some 200 houses have been destroyed.

The fires, which authorities suspect were started deliberately early this week, have reached several towns near the foothills of the Andes mountains, and have consumed about 1,500 hectares of forest, local authorities said.

The charred body of a rural dweller, reported missing since Tuesday, was found near the town of El Maiten, they added.

"The fire reached more than 200 homes and there are still 11 people whose whereabouts we do not know," Environment Minister Juan Cabandie told reporters.

Overnight rains brought some reprieve. But several fires, though contained, are still burning, he added.

Dozens of fire fighters, aided by fire trucks and helicopters are battling the remaining fires in the provinces of Chubut, Rio Negro and Neuquen.

"There are people left without a home, with nothing. A lot of people are in need," Marcelo Cardenas, who said he lost his house and a workshop, told AFP.

"I lost my house, my dogs, and 60 chickens," added Rosalinda Muena, 70, who makes a living selling jam and eggs to tourists in the affected region.

Cabandie said the fires started simultaneously in seven different places, leading investigators to suspect arson.

Last year, blazes devoured tens of thousands of hectares of forest in Argentina. These, too, were blamed on humans clearing land for farming or real estate, according to the environment ministry.

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