San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Environment Officials Warn Of Forest Fires This Year

Costa Rica’s Environment, Energy and  Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) warns of active and prolonged forest fires in 2010 after El Niño’s presence during the 2009 rainy season led to unseasonably dry weather in most of the country.

During a press conference earlier this month, MINAET said the phenomenon will cause higher temperatures, drier days and stronger winds throughout the 2010 dry season, all of the fixings that would increase the possibility of extensive forest fires.

The government institute bases its assumptions on previous years in which El Niño affected the country. Between 1998 and 2009, El Niño reared its head four times in Costa Rica. On all four occasions, the following dry season saw more land razed in forest fires than in years when the phenomenon was absent.

The most affected areas, MINAET projects, will be some of the driest parts of the country, such as Upala and Los Chiles, in the Northern Zone near the Nicaraguan border.

MINAET also predicts that the Central Valley could see some flames this year.

To prepare, the government will organize what it calls the National Contingency Plan in order to coordinate responses to forest fires and implement a Permanent Alert System to patrol areas of concern, detect hazards and control blazes.

The last forest fire to cause considerable damage in Costa Rica occurred inside the GuanacasteNational Park in March 2007, following El Niño’s presence. The inferno burned 2,000 hectares of land and caused $9 million in environmental damage. The last El Niño lasted from August 2006 until February 2007.

–Mike McDonald

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