Park authorities confirmed on Thursday that three hunters ignited the fire that burned roughly 1,000 hectares of land inside Palo Verde National Park in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.
According to Luis Diego Román, a Guanacaste-based official with the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), park guards spotted the three men inside the park at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. Upon noticing that the men were illegally carrying guns inside a protected area, guards approached the suspects and commanded them to stop.
The men split up and ran in three different directions. Moments later, Román said, smoke began to rise from the area where one of the suspects was standing, and the guards’ efforts shifted to damage control.
On Tuesday, fire brigades had controlled the blaze that burned mostly grass and cattail plants. Park officials said that teams are still on alert, however, because the fire could still be smoldering in the undergrowth and could reignite at any moment.
Authorities are still looking for the three men that are believed to have set the area aflame. In the meantime, park and conservation officials say they will present a formal complaint before the courts.
According to Costa Rica’s Forestry Law, a person who is convicted of starting a forest fire is subject to one to three years of prison.
The conflagration in Palo Verde is one of 37 fires that have enkindled inside Costa Rica’s various protected areas this year. Approximately 1,300 hectares of protected land has been devoured by flames since January 1.
Conservation officials in Guanacaste said that during the dry and windy days of April before the start of the May showers, parched lands are particularly susceptible to forest fires, especially in the north Pacific region – the area in Costa Rica most affected by the 2009 drought.
So far, no homes or communities have been harmed by the wildfires this year.