Raging fires in Argentina's Cordoba province prompt evacuations, threaten homes

BUENOS AIRES, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Fires are raging in Argentina's Cordoba province, prompting evacuations and threatening to destroy homes, fueled in part by strong winds and a lack of rain, officials said on Monday.

At least 14,321 hectares (55 square miles)of grasslands and mountainous territory have so far been burned, mainly in the northern areas of Punilla and Ischilín, according to local media, as the province and federal government deploy aircraft to assist firefighters on the ground.

Cordoba's government warned of an "extreme" risk of fires throughout the province amid the dry and windy weather and called on citizens to report them.

Provincial justice officials are investigating the cause of the fires, which have been tracked to two main sources amid suspicion that they were set by ranchers clearing pastures to make way for new growth, a common practice in Argentina.

The flames have already destroyed power lines in some areas of Cordoba and threaten to block major highway routes, officials said.

"People have been evacuated. Luckily the right decisions have been made in a timely manner," chief firefighter Eduardo Molinari told Argentine TV channel TN. "No one has been injured so far... Obviously there has been material damage."

The Cordoba fires coincide with wetlands fires in Argentina's Parana Delta region, which have rapidly gained momentum since July due to a severe drought. The Parana region fires are the worst in about a decade and have sparked concern among scientists regarding the carbon-rich soil releasing harmful emissions as it burns.

(Reporting by Cassandra Garrison and Maximilian Heath; additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Dan Grebler)

((Cassandra.Garrison@thomsonreuters.com; +54 11 5830 7443;))

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